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The Life and Explorations of 

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Among the Ibos of Nigeria. 

An Account of the Curious &> In- 
teresting Habits, Customs & Beliefs 
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Hair-dressing as a Work of Art 

Charcoal dust and palm oil are freely used, but should necessity arise the structure must be cut 
away entirely, as it cannot be " undone." 




G. T. BASDEN, M.A., F.R.G.S, 








to my beloved wife, 

who has bravely and patiently borne 

the responsibilities of home and children 

Whilst i have been absent in Nigeria, 

this book is affectionately 



The responsibility for the appearance of this book does 
not altogether fall upon my shoulders. The suggestion to 
issue a more detailed account of the Ibo people sprang 
from a magazine article. What is hereinafter written is the 

There is no necessity to inform the author that he is 
sadly lacking in style and diction and all the other marks 
of literary excellence. He is fully alive to his short-comings, 
and in the following pages will be found faulty sentences, 
loose constructions, and words and phrases that will grate 
harshly on the cultivated ear. 

Literature is not my profession. I have simply striven 
to set forth in a plain way some of the things which the 
plain man may see and hear in Nigeria. The book has 
one recommendation : it is based on actual experience. 
There are probably errors which will need rectification. 
It would be sheer presumption to expect otherwise, for 
the longer one lives amongst West African natives, the 
more one is convinced that it is a practical impossibility 
for the European to comprehend fully the subtleties of 
the native character. Some white men claim to have done 
this, but my experience leads me to think that the claim 
can rarely, if ever, be substantiated with definite assurance. 
The depths may be sounded at times, but only by accident, 
and on most of such occasions the inquirer does not re- 
cognise that he has actually tapped the inner consciousness 
of the native. Let not this be thought strange, for the 
black man himself does not know his own mind. He does 
the most extraordinary things, and cannot explain why he 
does them. He is not controlled by logic : he is the victim 
of circumstance, and his policy is very largely one of drift. 
The will of the tribe or family, expressed or implied, per- 
meates his whole being, and is the deciding factor in every 



detail of his life. It is a sort of intangible freemasonry ; 
the essence of the primary instincts of the people. Men 
constantly act contrary to their better judgment, and, 
at times, even wrongly, because they firmly believe they 
have no alternative : they dare not oppose the wishes of 
their people. Consequently though there may be inde- 
pendent thought, there is seldom independent action, 
probably never where other members of the tribe or family 
are involved, however remotely. A further result, and one 
which must always be borne in mind by the foreign in- 
quirer into primitive customs, is that the ideas of the 
native are indefinite. He has no fixed thoughts. He is 
under the influence of an atmosphere which emanates 
from the whole tribe. This subliminal consciousness, 
by which all his movements are controlled, becomes 
practically a sixth sense. It is inexpressible in words but, 
nevertheless, extremely powerful in action. 

Knowing, therefore, from experience the great difficulty 
of fathoming the depths of the native mind, and having 
endeavoured to traverse some of the intricacies of native 
thought, I am bound to confess that I feel, after seventeen 
years, more puzzled over many things than I did after the 
same number of weeks in the country. I believe my 
experience is not unique. Old coasters have often expressed 
themselves to the same effect. Hence in putting into 
print the following pages I do so with no little diffidence. 
Though I have sifted the information as thoroughly as 
possible, yet I should still consider it highly presumptuous 
to think that no statement stands in need of revision. 
What is herein offered may, at least, form the basis for 
further and more complete investigation in the future. 

There is one important problem with which I have 
not dealt specifically, namely, the Liquor Traffic, though 
the evils connected with it are mentioned incidentally in 
more than one chapter. The omission of the subject 
generally is deliberate. In some quarters it is a matter of 
controversy. We are, however, convinced that it is solely 
on economic grounds that this blot upon our national 
escutcheon is allowed to remain. Since the Commission 
appointed to inquire into the traffic issued its report, the 


attention of medical and other officials has been more 
particularly drawn to the question, and signs are not 
wanting which indicate a growing feeling in favour of 
total prohibition. 

At the moment of writing the trade was more or less at a 
standstill owing to the European War. The German firms 
were arbitrarily prevented from shipping supplies to the 
coast. Revenue from the importation of Hamburg spirits, 
consequently, automatically ceased for the time being. 
May we not hope that the trade thus temporarily restricted 
may be abandoned ? Never in the history of West Africa 
has there been such a favourable opportunity for suppress- 
ing a form of trade which, though defended for purposes 
of revenue and commerce, cannot be morally justified. 

The result of my observations is offered for what it is 
worth. It is the outcome of an honest attempt to ascertain 
some of the salient features of the life and customs of the 
Ibos. On essential things I have, for the most part, 
sought simply to put into readable English what I have 
learned from the natives themselves, as originally written 
or related by them. If its publication serves to arouse 
a sense of interest towards the Ibo speaking people, the 
labour spent will not have been in vain. 

To any contemplating residence in the Ibo country, 
particularly those likely to be associated with native 
affairs, I would recommend a careful study of Levitical 
Law. In many ways the affinity between Native Law and 
the Mosaic System is remarkable. For comparative work 
the student will do well to peruse Joh. Warneck's The 
Living Forces of the Gospel, 1 especially Part I of the book. 
I have been greatly struck with the resemblances of Ibo 
to the Battak 2 customs described in this work. For 
general purposes I have found British Nigeria,* by Lieut. - 
Col. A. F. Lockyer-Ferryman, and Fetishism in West 
Africa,* by the Rev. Dr. R. H. Nassau, very profitable 

1 Translation from the German by the Rev. Neil Buchanan, published 
by Oliphant, Anderpon and Ferrier. 

2 The Battalcs oj Sumatra. Indian Archipelago. 

3 Cassell and Co, 4 Duckworth and Co 


In addition to many native friends, too numerous to 
mention by name, my thanks are due to the following : 
Captain R. M. Heron, for the. use of his monograph on 
Native Titles (Chap. XXIV), in the preliminary investiga- 
tion of which We were associated; to the intensely in- 
teresting journals compiled by the late Rev. Dr. James F. 
Schon, the Rev. Samuel Adjai Crowther (afterwards first 
Bishop of the Niger), and the Rev. J. C. Taylor during 
the expeditions of 1841, 1854 and 1857. Also to Dr. 
Eugene Stock for permitting me to make copious extracts 
from his monumental work, the History of the Church 
Missionary Society (Chap. XXIX). 

I further record my sincere gratitude to the late Mrs. 
Herbert Crosfield and Mrs. C. H. Williams, for their prac- 
tical assistance and counsel. I count myself fortunate 
to have had the benefit of their generous help in reading 
the MS., and for their many useful suggestions. 

What is offered is not to be accepted necessarily as the 
views of the Society of which I have the privilege of being 
a member, nor those of my fellow-missionaries. The former 
sent me to the Niger ; with some of the latter I have en- 
joyed many profitable discussions on Nigerian problems — 
missionary and otherwise — but I am alone responsible for 
every word and opinion expressed, except in those in- 
stances where direct quotations have been made from 
other writers. 

George T. Basden. 


Southern Nigeria. 



From Liverpool to Onitsha . 




The Ibo Country 



The Ibo Country (continued) . 



The Ibo Village . 



Child Life 



Courtship and Marriage 



Ibo Men — Young and Old 



Ibo Women and Their Ways . 



Polygamy and Slavery . 



Death and Burial Rites and Ceremonies 

$ 112 


Sports and Pastimes . 



The Ibo at Work • . 



The Yam — The Ibo Staff of Life . 



Palms—For Use and Profit . 



Some Arts and Crafts . 



Arts and Crafts for Women . 



Music ...... 



Trade and Currency 



War and Weapons .... 

, 202 


Some Aspects of Religion 

. 212 


Sacrifice and Sacrifices 


. 228 






Secret Societies 

. 285 


In the Shadow of Death 

. 244 


Chiefs and their Orders 

. 355 


Some Points of Etiquette 

. 266 


Fables — Folklore — Proverbs . 

. 273 


The Day of Better Things . 

. 285 


Christianity and Islam . 

. 297 


Hair-dressing as a Work of Art . 

A Girl Wife 

Belles of the Village .... 

Girls from the Eastern Interior District 
paring for Marriage 

In Gala Dress .... 

The Entrance to a Chief's Compound 

Preparing for Marriage 

Three Stages of Girlhood 

A Proud Trio .... 

Surgical Knives .... 

A Brass Anklet .... 

A Copper Bracelet 
Cast Brass Tobacco Pipes 
Visitors from the Spirit World 
Skengas ...... 

The "Maw-Afia" .... 

Guinea-fowl Dancers . . . 
Fine Specimens of Young Manhood 
Climbing a Palm Tree . 





















Town Deities 

A Medicine Man .... 

Thatching with Palm Leaf Mats . 

Puddling Clay .... 

A Blacksmith at Work . 

Ichi or Tribal Marks 

An Old Ibo Woman 

Native Market .... 

The "Maw" (Spirit) of a Girl 

Brides-Elect ..... 

Making Palm Leaf Mats 

The Wonderful Tom-tom of Umu-Nze 

Playing Okwe .... 

A Native Orchestra 

Making Water and Cooking Pots . 

Women Clearing Farm of Weeds . 

A Strange Passport 

A Young Lady of Awka 






















Probably there is no part of the world which has been 
more anathematised than the West Coast of Africa, and 
yet it has never ceased to cast its spell over men and to 
attract them to its surf -washed shores. Perhaps also no 
other country has been shrouded in so much mystery, or 
held in thrall by such powers of darkness. 

More particularly the Niger has dominated the minds of 
men with a fascination well-nigh incomprehensible, except 
to those who have felt its influence. From the days of 
Pliny downwards no river has given rise to so many and 
varied speculations as to its course and ultimate discharge. 
Not until 1830 was the problem solved, when the brothers 
Lander passed down the river and, after many adventures, 
found themselves gazing after the sea at Brass. For 
thirty-five years intrepid explorers had been baffled in 
the task of tracing the course of the great river. Mungo 
Park and many of his successors in the quest had indeed 
fallen in the fight. 

The discovery of the embouchure of the Niger by the 
Landers settled for ever all speculative theories as to its 
course, and cleared up a mystery which had been for years 
a subject of discussion amongst interested enthusiasts. 
Their success, however, had come too late. The toll of 
lives already exacted, and the disastrous endings of 
B 17 


previous expeditions, had bred such hopeless despair that 
few were the seers whose vision could penetrate the dark 
clouds and foresee the possibilities of the Niger. 

Government was not inclined to move any further in 
this matter of exploration, and probably those who 
advocated the decision felt that their action had been 
justified when the disasters of the ill-fated expedition 
of 1832-4 became known. Lander dead, together with 
thirty-eight others of the forty-eight who had set sail 
from Liverpool. Misfortune and death had pressed 
heavily upon them, yet those brave hearts, who went 
forth chiefly at the instigation of Maegregor Laird, laid 
the foundation of that prosperity which eventually, in 
the Providence of God, resulted in Nigeria being added 
to the British Empire. 

The expedition of 1841 was practically due to the per- 
sistent efforts of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, whose name 
will ever be held in honoured remembrance in West Africa. 
Equipped with every necessary that thought could suggest 
and money supply, the expedition started on the great 
adventure, cheered by the good wishes of all, from Prince 
Albert (who had presided at the inauguration meeting at 
Exeter Hall, June 1, 1840) downwards. No expedition 
had ever gone forth under brighter auspices or with greater 
eclat. But alas ! all too quickly enthusiasm changed to 
despair. The narrative of that ill-fated voyage up the 
Niger depicts an almost unparalleled series of disasters. 
" Its failure killed Fowell Buxton," 1 and caused such pro- 
found depression that for years all further effort to open 
up the river was abandoned. 

Thirteen years later the indefatigable Maegregor Laird, 
with dauntless energy and perseverence, succeeded in 
despatching the Pleiad under the command of Dr. 
Baikie. This venture was unique, and inaugurated a new 
era of Niger exploration, inasmuch as Dr. Baikie and his 
companions navigated hundreds of miles of the Niger, 
and they traced the course of the River Benue to within 
a short distance of Yola and, most wonderful to relate, 
returned without the loss of a single life. 

1 History oj C. M. S., Vol. I, p. 455. 


This unprecedented success stirred up Laird to yet 
greater exertions, and after many struggles and rebuffs 
he succeeded in launching the expedition of 1857. 

The two ships engaged, the Dayspring and the George, 
arrived at Aboh on the Niger on July 20 of that year, 
and five days later they reached Onitsha. The latter place 
was destined to become an important centre for the 
development of the country. The expedition laid the 
foundation of commercial and missionary enterprise 
amongst the Ibo people, and in the following pages an 
attempt is made to set forth some of the main facts con- 
cerning their lives and customs. 

It was characteristic of the times, and of the English, 
that so much had been left to the persevering exertions 
of a private individual. In the enthusiastic days, just 
prior to the departure of the expedition of 1841, the 
Committee of the Church Missionary Society had expressed 
the hope that the Niger would be " a highway for the 
Gospel," but the honour of making such a prospect 
possible falls to Macgregor Laird. It was the humblest of 
beginnings, alike from a mercantile and a missionary point 
of view, and yet of such importance that within six years, 
Burton writes : " We shall never drop the Niger ; the main 
artery of* Western Africa north of the line must not be 
neglected." 1 Only those acquainted with the history of 
Nigeria since those adventurous days can adequately 
comprehend the marvellous strides taken in the opening 
up of the country. Writing with reference to the trad- 
ing affairs of the Niger, Lieut. -Col. Mockler-Ferryman 
says : 

"As an instance of the rapid development of a new 
land there is, perhaps, nothing more interesting in the 
commercial history of England than the opening up of 
the River Niger to trade. Fifty years ago there was not 
a single store-shed north of the Delta ; to-day the banks 
of the main river and its branches, to a distance of nine 
hundred miles from the sea, are lined with British trading 
stations." 2 

1 Wanderings in West Africa (R. F. Burton) Vol. II, p. 259, 

2 British Nigeria (Mockler-Ferryman), p. 55. 


The progress to be recorded since the above words were 
penned is astounding, and it undoubtedly surpasses every 
expectation of the pioneers of British interests in Nigeria. 
Since the assumption of the administration of the country 
by our Government (Jan. 1, 1900) even greater progress 
can be recorded. The result is a complete upheaval of 
the political, economical and social affairs of the country. 
Every native institution has been shaken in its founda- 
tions and, at the present rate of progress, a great many 
of the most interesting facts concerning the primitive 
customs of the people will soon be matters of history and 
tradition only, hence this attempt to record some of these 
facts ere the period of transition be passed, when the old 
shall have been overwhelmed by the new. 

The days of the " Palm-oil Ruffians " are over. For 
years the men who laid the foundations of the great com- 
mercial houses were dubbed with this sobriquet, and yet 
it is to their endurance, and often dare-devil pluck, that 
we owe much of our present prosperity. In them we see 
repeated the instinct for adventure, the blood and bone 
and the initiative of the Elizabethan mariners who started 
the Empire movement. Seldom now is the epithet applied 
to the coasters. On the other hand the West African 
steamer, as she rests alongside Prince's Landing Stage, 
Liverpool, is still occasionally irreverently addressed as 
the " monkey ship " by that indescribable product, the 
quayside labourer, who earns a more or less precarious 
livelihood by handling passengers' baggage. 

From England to Sierra Leone the voyage is similar to 
any ordinary journey by sea. From that point there is a 
little more variation, chiefly arising from the fact that 
the transhipment of passengers and baggage is accom- 
plished whilst the ship lies at anchor in the open road- 
steads. The heavy rolling seas, as a rule, prohibit the use 
of companion-ladders, and recourse must be had to derricks 
and mammy-chairs. Native crews bring surf -boats along- 
side, and into these the traveller and his goods are dumped. 
The operation is very unpleasant at any time, and when the 
sea is rough it is decidedly uncomfortable. The native 
paddlers are Very expert in handling their craft, and they 


need to be to avoid catastrophe. In the earlier days 
European passengers climbed down the vessel's side by 
the rope ladder, or were hoisted over in a barrel adapted 
for the purpose by the removal of a quarter section to 
allow for easy entrance and exit. Nowadays baskets or 
mammy-chairs are used. 

Highly entertaining — to the onlookers — is the method 
of transhipping native passengers, of whom considerable 
crowds are carried between the coast ports. It had at 
least the merit of being Very expeditious. A piece of stout 
canvas, some twelve feet square, was spread on the fore- 
deck, and upon this were huddled six or eight men. At 
once the four corners of the sail were gathered up and 
hitched to the derrick hook, and the bag of humanity was 
slung overboard without further ceremony. For a time 
it dangled at the end of the swaying rope, the poor im- 
prisoned wretches being enveloped in darkness and, help- 
less to protect themselves as they were, bumped against 
the vessel's side. They remained suspended thus until 
the word was given to " let go," when the bundle was 
dropped with a run into the bottom of the surf-boat 
alongside. By that time arms and legs had become almost 
inextricably mixed up, but the unravelling was a marvel 
of speedy ingenuity. Three corners of the canvas were 
slipped off the hook, and then it was hauled up by the 
fourth corner, and the long-suffering beings shaken out 
and left to sort themselves at leisure. 

It was astonishing how quickly a number of natives 
could be transferred by this rough-and-ready method, and, 
except for an occasional ducking, accidents appear to have 
been rare events. 

Immense quantities of kola nuts, in charge of Moham- 
medan traders, are carried between the coast ports. They 
are bound up in huge round bundles containing some 
3000 to 4000 nuts apiece, most carefully packed between 
fresh leaves and salt to prevent contact with the air ; if 
exposed they soon harden and lose their Value. The 
bundles are very heavy, and are carefully protected with 
stout coverings, the whole being enclosed in a network of 
strong cordage. Sometimes the foredeck is piled up with 


hundreds of bales of nuts, and they form one of the most 
valuable items of cargo. 1 

Passengers for the Niger proceed to the Forcados River 
and are there transferred to a launch or stern-wheel 
steamer, the latter being far preferable to the former. 
My first acquaintance with the Niger was whilst making 
the up-river passage in the old Rattler, a launch, most 
appropriately named, some thirty feet in length by about 
eight feet beam, driven by a small and noisy engine. In 
1900 the number of passengers was so insignificant that the 
business of transport had scarcely been considered. The 
few who did travel up river were granted passages more 
or less as acts of courtesy, upon payment of a sum rather 
substantial in proportion to the facilities conferred. In 
the case of the Rattler, judging by appearances, most of 
the woodwork originally supplied for cabin fittings and 
other purposes had been appropriated by the enterprising 
engineer for firewood. The native has no compunction 
whatever in using the first thing that serves his end, and 
one has seen a neighbour's roof stripped of all the thatch 
within reach of the hand, it having been commandeered 
in order to start the kitchen fire. 

On the occasion of my first passage the Niger was in 
full flood. At such a time it becomes an immense and 
imposing volume of water, or, more correctly, a saturated 
solution of mud. Navigation during the time of full river, 
i.e. whilst heavy rains are falling, still has its discomforts, 
but that season is more expeditious than the dry for 
travelling, inasmuch that when the water is low it fre- 
quently becomes a wearisome task to proceed either up 
or down stream. When nine days are occupied by a good 
steamer in traversing eighty miles, travelling is apt to 
become tedious ; it may be restful but is not very enter- 
taining, although unexpected adventures occasionally en- 
liven the proceedings. To the new-comer there is much 
that is novel and he, moreover, early discovers his own 
shortcomings and suffers from his lack of experience in 
the management of affairs. We had not proceeded many 
miles in the Rattler when we became aware of the fact 

1 See p. 267 (Chap. XXV) for note on kola nuts. 


that no cooking utensils were on board, and we were forced 
to accept the loan of a small begrimed pot, the property 
of one of the native crew. This had to serve as teapot 
and to cook — in turn — every course comprising our menu. 
There was no special hardship in this until the other pur- 
poses for which it was used became known to us. It was 
not appetising to discover that the same little pot was 
used for stewing palm-oil chop — some of the ingredients 
of which were questionable — and later that it served as 
the wash-up basin for plates and dishes, and finally for 
some of the boys themselves ! 

In order to avoid the powerful current, small launches, 
when proceeding up stream, keep well in under the banks 
for the sake of the shelter afforded, but as the river is 
studded with islands, and deviates in its course, this 
entails frequent crossings from one side to the other. 
There is a certain amount of compensation in this, inas- 
much as it permits close observation of the country through 
which one is travelling. 

In the Delta districts the route is through a seemingly 
interminable mangrove swamp. 1 In every direction 
nothing meets the eye but water and dense banks of vege- 
tation. In the dry season hundreds of high-and-dry sand- 
banks add another colour to the picture. On the sky-line 
there is one dead level of tree-tops, a prospect which is 
extremely monotonous. 

Much credit is due to those Englishmen who endure 
life in these watery wastes, some in the interests of com- 
merce, others in the administration of political affairs. 

1 Mangrove, Rizophera mangle of Linnaeus. This tree., like the banian 
of the East Indies, is propagated by shoots thrown out from the upper 
branches ; these descend, take root, and become parent trees, throwing 
out leaves, branches, and shoots in their turn. Hence, a whole forest of 
mangrove trees are intimately connected with each other, and are thus so 
firmly rooted as to resist the most rapid tides and most impetuous current. 
They grow in wet places, and are generally covered with large quantities of 
oysterB, here called mangrove oysters. They render creeks unhealthy, by 
retaining the mud and ooze and other putrefying substances among their 
tangled roots ; they also render them dangerous, by affording a secure 
retreat to alligators. The wood of this tree is extremely hard, and much 
used by the natives for building houses, as it is not so ea '.ily destroyed by 
the termites (white ants) as other kinds of timber. — Winterbottom. 


How little the dividend-drawing public know of the dreary 
circumstances in which the toilers in these depressing 
regions live. 

The traveller finds a subject of fascinating interest in 
watching the native pilot as he threads his course through 
an amazing labyrinth of waterways. In the Delta, channels 
open out in all directions, but the pilot is never in doubt ; 
he presses steadily onward, not only by day but often far 
into the night. 

On the lower reaches of the Niger no villages are visible 
from the steamer, and the only indications of human life 
are the men and women paddling their " dug-outs " under 
the shelter of the banks. These inhabitants of the swamps 
are scantily clothed, and their huge umbrella-hats of 
plaited palm leaves give them a quaint appearance. The 
villages are hidden in the back-bush wherever an acre or 
two of less swampy land affords an anchorage for a tiny 
cluster of huts. Little lanes of water, often invisible to 
the unobservant eye, connect the villages with the main 
stream. Sometimes the entrance is indicated by a " Ju-ju " 
house, or a primitive flag-staff, from which a fragment of 
white cloth flutters. The latter has also a religious signifi- 
cance but is not original, the custom being an innovation 
adopted in recent years by certain of the Delta tribes. 

As we proceed up river the swamp gives place to higher 
ground and the banks become defined. Clearings in the 
forest are to be seen where plantains and bananas thrive. 
The increasing number and size of the villages, now built 
directly on the river banks, point to the fact that the 
country is well populated. One is struck with the lack of 
forethought exhibited by the natives when building these 
riverside villages. They are situated close to the water's 
edge, and, consequently, many huts are swept away 
during the annual flood. The swollen river, swirling along 
at a great pace, undermines the bank, causing large sec- 
tions to fall into the water, carrying away at the same time 
huts and trees. The lesson of the year's disaster leaves no 
impression, and the native continues to build on precarious 
sites — as near the river as he can, presumably in order to 
be near his canoe, the river being the great (and often the 


only) highway to the markets. The huts are small and 
oblong in shape, the poorest in style and material in the 
whole country. They are constructed of mud and wattle, 
and thatched with palm leaves. Sometimes they are 
built on the ground, in other cases they are raised on piles 
to protect them from the floods. The local clay is of 
inferior quality, with poor building properties, and is 
unsuitable for building substantial walls similar to those 
erected by the people in the districts higher up the river. 

The most important piece of property to the Delta 
native — as indeed to all natives dwelling in close proximity 
to the river — is the " dug-out " canoe. It is indispensable, 
providing, as it does, the only means of intercourse with 
the outside world. In the wet season no other mode of 
travelling is possible, and at times the native would be 
confined to the four walls of his hut were he deprived of his 
canoe. For the fashioning of a " dug-out," a tree is selected, 
by preference a mahogany (for cheap canoes bamboo or 
silk cotton trees are suitable), as near the water's edge as 
possible. From the main stem a log of the length required 
is taken, and this is roughly hewn to shape and hollowed 
out with native axes. The axe-work being completed, 
slow fire is applied to the hull, inside and out, and the rough 
parts made smooth. The canoes are of all dimensions, 
from those designed for a single paddler to those capable 
of carrying a dozen or more, with passengers and merchan- 
dise in addition. They are heavier and more cumbersome 
even than they look, and, from personal experience, I can 
affirm that they do not compare favourably with a rowing 

Near Aboh the waters of the Delta converge into one 
main stream, and the river assumes an aspect worthy of 
its title, the " Lordly Niger." At the close of the wet 
season it is truly a mighty mass of water. Immediately 
the rains cease, however, it subsides at a remarkably rapid 
rate, and very soon sandbanks appear, and navigation 
becomes an intricate business. 

As far as Aboh the inhabitants of the districts traversed 
consist chiefly of the Jekri and I jaw tribes, but from this 
point the Ibo people predominate. The scenery has 


changed also. No more mangrove swamp is met with, 
and the country is higher altogether, though still con- 
tinuing uniformly and monotonously flat. Magnificent 
trees lift their heads above the dense undergrowth, those 
particularly noticeable being the bombax (silk cotton), 
uroko (commonly called African oak), mahogany, cocoanut 
and oil-palms. Viewed from the launch, the country is 
extremely picturesque and often beautiful, but at close 
quarters its attractiveness quickly diminishes. The 
luxuriant living foliage springs forth from a tangled mass 
of dead and decaying vegetation, rank and reeking in the 
humid atmosphere ; the home of myriads of creatures 
that creep and crawl. The " bush," as it is familiarly 
termed, is not the place to select for comfort and enjoyment. 
A day's run north from Aboh brings the traveller to 
Onitsha, in the neighbourhood of which are seen the first 
signs of hilly country, a welcome relief from the depressing 
low levels hitherto encountered. Here it was that the 
present writer landed in September, 1900. The Rattler 
dropped her anchor just before midnight. The darkness 
was intense, and the pitch-black cloud-banks of an ap- 
proaching tornado provided an appropriate setting for his 
introduction to " darkest Africa." 



In 1900, Onitsha had not aspired to anything approaching 
its present importance, and it retained much of its primi- 
tive simplicity. The commercial centre of the district was 
at Abutshi, two or three miles down-stream, and the 
administrative quarters, first of the Royal Niger Co., and 
later of the Government, were at Asapa, on the western 
side of the river. To the north of the town, following the 
left bank of the Nkissi stream, on the site now covered 
with Government buildings, a large coffee plantation was 
laid out. Of the surrounding country, even of that com- 
paratively near the settlement, but little was known. The 
existing maps were useless as none contained reliable 
data, the names inserted being based upon reports and 
conjectures. Some names were curious e.g. " Akpam " 
and " Nri." The latter certainly is a name well known 
over a considerable portion of the Ibo country. It is the 
name of a small town which is the headquarters of a 
priestly cult whose special functions are connected with 
the coronation of kings, hence "nri" men (priests) being 
travellers, were met with frequently. When asked whence 
they came the answer was a wave of the hand towards 
the east, and thus the name was given, in mistake, to the 
whole country lying east of Onitsha. 

It is only during the last few years, i.e. since the British 
Government assumed the administration, that appreciable 
progress has been made in opening up the interior districts. 
At the time of my landing at Onitsha there was an attrac- 
tive field for investigation in which the native could be 
studied in his primitive environment. The subsequent 
years have been equally interesting, but from another 



standpoint, viz., that of a spectator watching a nation 
passing through a period of transition. The process still 
continues, and the people and the country are changing at 
an extraordinarily rapid rate. The old conditions and 
landmarks are disappearing and modern developments 
will soon obliterate all signs of ancient history. 

The limits of the Ibo country have now been approxi- 
mately defined, and the territory apportioned into dis- 
tricts. A network of Government stations has been 
established, and trading and missionary interests shew 
evidence of vigorous prosperity. The Ibos are distributed 
over the greater part of the Central Province of the Pro- 
tectorate and number about four millions, i.e., probably 
half the total population of Southern Nigeria. 

In the Delta districts, and especially in the neighbour- 
hood of Bonny and other coast towns, they are not in- 
digenous. They consist chiefly of slaves under the control 
of " Heads of Houses." These slaves often outnumber 
the original inhabitants, and their language is of such 
vitality that " Bonny Ibo " predominates over the other 
dialects of the district. 

From the coastline of the Bight of Benin, the Ibo 
country skirts the Ibibio, Aro-Chuku and Efik territories. 
After that its eastern boundary is formed by the Cross 
River. On the southern and western sides it stretches to 
the borders of the Ijaw, Jekri, and Igabo and other tribes, 
and then spreads across the Niger to the confines of Benin. 
After passing 6° 31' N. Lat., it narrows in once more, and 
extends in wedge-like formation until its northernmost 
limits reach the boundary between southern and northern 
Nigeria, where the^Akpotos and Munshis are the nearest 

The area covered by the tribe being so extensive, it 
follows that there is wide divergence in the physical features 
of the country. In the Delta regions the land is very low- 
lying. It is intersected by innumerable creeks and for a 
considerable portion of the year becomes a typical tropic 
swamp. The vegetation is rank, and the atmosphere 
humid and enervating. Clothes, if left exposed to the 
night air, even inside the houses, are quite damp by morn- 


ing ; rain falls in great quantities. As the sun sinks on a 
fine day banks of white mist roll up, enveloping every- 
thing in their damp and chilly folds. 

In the neighbourhood of Onitsha the prospect is more 
pleasing. For the traveller striking inland in an easterly 
direction, the scenery improves almost immediately, and 
charming hills and valleys open out on all sides. The 
vegetation consists chiefly of scrub and jungle-grass with 
big patches of moorland here and there. Extensive and 
picturesque clumps of trees are scattered about, indicating, 
as a rule, the presence of towns and villages, or marking 
the sizes of burial grounds. 

On these higher levels, high only as compared with 
the Delta, the soil is reddish and sandy, and, except in 
certain hilly spots, singularly stoneless. One has often 
seen holes opened out to a considerable depth without a 
solitary pebble being unearthed. However deep one pene- 
trates, the soil retains its colour, and the only difference is 
the presence of more or less clay. It is of poor quality for 
agricultural purposes, and much labour is involved for 
which there is frequently no adequate return. The giant 
elephant -grass, the shorter jungle-grass and a variety 
called " Ata," or spear grass, flourish. This last is very 
exasperating to farmers and to anyone else desirous of 
cleaning the ground, because every particle of root is 
capable of vigorous propagation. 

On the western side of the Niger the aspect is totally 
different. A large part of the country is covered with 
forest. It is on a lower level than the eastern side and is 
much more fertile. Great quantities of yams and other 
crops are raised and labour is richly rewarded. To pro- 
vide sites for villages and land for agricultural purposes, 
clearings are made in the forest, and this has led to ruthless 
and wholesale destruction of valuable timber. The crea- 
tion of a Forestry Department by the Government will, 
no doubt, do much to remedy this evil. 

In porportion to what might be expected flowers are 
scarce. The most beautiful are the many varieties of 
lilies and orchids. Palms predominate amongst the trees, 
the oil-palm (Elwsis Guineensis) being of the greatest 


value. It flourishes in a greater or less degree, according 
to situation, throughout the Ibo country. The Raphia 
Vinifera and other varieties furnish the natives with 
copious supplies of palm wine. The cocoanut also abounds, 
together with many other species of palm. The uses to 
which the palm trees and their products are put by the 
natives are unlimited, every part being utilised in one form 
or another. 

Compared with other parts of Africa, game is exception- 
ally scarce. Guinea-fowl and partridges are few and wild ; 
buck of different varieties are to be secured occasionally 
as also buffalo. In some of the rivers and creeks the mani- 
tee flourishes. Hippopotami and crocodiles are common, 
though of late years they have exhibited a tendency to 
abandon the main river owing to the disturbance occasioned 
by the ever-increasing steamer traffic. Leopards are some- 
times troublesome and there are several smaller species of 
the cat family. In bygone days there was a thriving 
market for ivory, a fact clearly attested by the arm and 
leg ornaments worn by men and women, and the magni- 
ficent " horns " carried by chiefs as part of their insignia 
of office. Nowadays elephants are almost extinct in the 
Ibo country and ivory is a very expensive luxury. 

This scarcity of game is due, no doubt, to the fact that 
for generations every man was equipped with a gun — from 
the old flint-lock pattern to the more modern Snider, 
and, until quite recently, there was no lack of ammunition. 
The practice has been to kill bird and beast, without re- 
spect to age, sex or season. The people being well distri- 
buted, the result of this indiscriminate slaughter has been 
to denude the country of game. The hippopotami and the 
crocodiles fared better partly owing to the greater difficul- 
ties attendant upon hunting by water, but more particu- 
larly because the guns and ammunition were not of suffi- 
cient power to bring about any appreciable reduction 
in their numbers. 

In appearance the people exhibit wide divergences due 
largely to local conditions. In the eastern districts they 
are inclined to be thin and scraggy. This may arise from 
a combination of causes. In the first place the cultivation 


of the land demands labour of a flesh-reducing character. 
Secondly, the yam crop is comparatively poor and meagre, 
and supplies must be eked out with cassava, beans, maize 
and other catcher ops. The appearance of a crowd of 
carriers, with their spare frames, spindle-legs and cucumber 
calves, often prompts the thought that the men must have 
recently experienced a period of famine. On the western 
side this is not the case. There the people are shorter and 
are of a stocky, thick-set build. They are disposed to 
be lazy yet they are passionate, and of a rash and fiery 
temperament, the result probably of an over-abundant 
supply of rich food. 

Colour variations are prevalent from light olive to 
deepest black, and albinos are common. These freaks of 
nature are of unprepossessing appearance. They are not, 
however, treated as monstrosities ; indeed the mother of 
an albino is usually gratified with her offspring. They are 
termed by the people " ndi-awcha," i.e., white people. 

Skin disfigurements are very common, especially 
amongst the elder folk. These produce a pie-bald condi- 
tion, the hands and feet being the parts chiefly affected. 
This is, I suppose, due to some form of disease which des- 
troys the underlying pigment. I, personally, have seen 
but one certain case (and one other so reputed) of a child 
born with white patches on the skin. 

The Ibo country lies within the recognised negro belt, 
and the people bear the main characteristics of that stock. 
Bridgeless noses and wide open nostrils are striking 
features, likewise the thick protruding lips and the power- 
ful jaws. The shape of the skull repeats itself with aston- 
ishing regularity, this pecularity, perhaps, being accounted 
for by the process of moulding the shape of the head 
during infancy. 

There are certain customs which rather point to Levitic 
influence at a more or less remote period. This is sug- 
gested in the underlying ideas concerning sacrifice and in 
the practice of circumcision. The language also bears 
several interesting parallels with the Hebrew idiom. 

On the left bank of the Niger society is chiefly based 
on patriarchal lines. Every town, and, incidentally, 


every family or household, stands by itself. There is no 
combination between town and town. Although speaking 
the same language, and in times of peace intermarrying 
with one another, the nearest neighbours are still regarded 
as strangers, e.g., the people of Onitsha and those of Opusi 
do not reckon themselves as of one tribe, though a distance 
of less than five miles separates the two towns. With the 
exception of the king of Onitsha there are no kings in 
these parts. The solitary instance, tradition states, owes 
its origin to Benin. It is alleged that the kings of Onitsha 
were subject to the king of Benin and that recent holders 
of the title have been of Bini royal stock. On the opposite 
side of the river native rule was maintained by kingly 
authority. (Vide Chap. XXIV.) 

It can be generally accepted, though not without reser- 
vations, that under native law land cannot be alienated 
from the family, the head acting as trustee of the pro- 
perty. Permission is freely given to others to cultivate 
land, or even to build upon it, but the " Head," and his 
successors, can always claim its restoration at will. The 
claim imposed is merely one of proprietary right. The 
occupier is seldom disturbed so long as he is prepared to 
acknowledge the ground landlord. Rent is not usually 
demanded, the tenancy being confirmed by the offering 
and acceptance of " ojji "* at the time permission to occupy 
the land is granted, and on more or less regular occasions 
subsequently. Amongst the people themselves land is 
sometimes sold, and in thickly populated centres parcels 
of land are owned outright by private individuals, in con- 
tradistinction to the more widely prevailing law which 
stipulates that all land is the property, not of private 
persons, but of the community. Even in the latter case, 
however, land is appropriated definitely for the use of 
recognised holders. 

Personal property, including the wives and slaves, 
descends to the eldest son as heir, or failing a son, to the 
eldest brother or male relative. A wife ordinarily has no 
rights, either over herself or her possessions, not excluding 
her children. She is part and parcel of her husband's 


1 A small gift such as a fowl. 

A Girl Wife 

Belles of the Village 


As a rule, when left to their own resources, the Ibos are 
a sober race. They manufacture no intoxicating liquor. 
The nearest approach is palm wine, which is allowed to 
ferment by natural processes. Palm wine is frequently 
heavily adulterated with water. When fermentation has 
reached a certain stage the wine is too much like vinegar 
to be enjoyable ; even the old takers make wry faces when 
drinking it. It is almost a physical impossibility to get 
drunk on fresh palm wine. Men certainly drink themselves 
into a fuddled state, but this is probably as much due to the 
enormous quantities consumed at a carousal as to the 
amount of alcohol taken. To consume a similar quantity 
of tea would produce more serious consequences. 

No method of distilling is practised ; the Ibos have no 
knowledge whatever of this process. Drunkenness un- 
fortunately, is on the increase, brought about entirely 
by the importation of foreign spirits. But for this traffic 
the Ibos would be second to none for sobriety. The open- 
ing up of interior districts affords opportunities for the 
expansion of the traffic, and the square green bottles 
are in evidence at all the markets. The introduction of 
spirituous liquors is a distinctly foreign feature. In many 
places it has already destroyed some quaint old customs. 
To be offered whisky, or German beer, when paying a call 
upon a native chief, is an innovation greatly to be de- 
plored, especially when compared with the old ceremony 
of sealing friendships by sharing the kola nut. All the 
sentiment has departed, and, with it, the touch of reality 
that graced the ancient institution. This is denation- 
alisation in one of its most pernicious forms. 

Where water is plentiful the people are of cleanly habits, 
the women more so than the men. It is the women's 
business to fetch the household supply of water, and the 
visit to the stream provides an opportunity to bathe. 
The men are usually satisfied with a moderate amount of 
ablutionary effort, proportional to the supply of water at 
their disposal ; the number of those who will exert them- 
selves sufficiently to go to the stream solely for bathing 
purposes is not large. 

Of sanitary ideas there is none, nor is there any sense of 


modesty as the European understands the term. As 
regards sanitation, however, it must be remembered that 
the sun is a powerful purifying agent, otherwise the con- 
ditions would, in many places, be unendurable. 

The word " morality " has no significance in the Ibo 
vocabulary. On the other hand, where the natives have 
remained untouched by outside influence there is nothing 
exactly corresponding to the " social evil " of European 
life. The Ibos, as might be expected, are not patterns of 
morality, but in their primitive state they are at least 
free from artificial vice and its attendant evils. 

In the majority of Ibo towns a very clearly defined code 
of morals exist theoretically. Infringements of these laws 
may lead to severe penalties being inflicted, and cases 
are not unknown where infidelity on the part of a wife 
has been punished by the torture and death of both 
offenders. Extreme measures, however, were resorted to 
only when the aggrieved husband proved inexorable and 
rejected every offer of reparation. Instead of capital 
punishment the guilty wife was usually banished and her 
accomplice condemned to pay a fine which, in some in- 
stances, meant his being financially crippled for life. 

The weather conditions of the Ibo country are very 
similar to those of the West Coast generally. They pos- 
sess the merit, at least, of being regular. The dry season 
begins early in November, the rains concluding with a 
few heavy showers. Towards the end of December or in 
early January some slight rain will fall, ushering in the 
harmatfan. This is a period of excessive dryness. A dull 
haze, caused by minute particles of dust, obscures the sun. 
The dry heat sets up irritation of the skin and nostrils and 
sometimes causes the lips to crack. During the day it is 
very hot and this great heat is succeeded at night by a very 
low temperature. Europeans find the weather distinctly 
chilly at night, and it is much too cold for the comfort 
of the natives. These conditions last from two to five 

The harmattan is succeeded by the hot season proper, 
and the heat grows more and more oppressive until the 
end of March. The breaking up of the dry season is 


heralded by terrific tornadoes ; wind, rain, thunder and 
lightning all being of extremely violent character. May 
and June are sometimes termed the " Little dries," i.e., 
the weather is mostly fine with heavy downpours of rain 
at intervals. At the beginning of July the wet season 
starts in earnest. A huge rainfall is registered between 
the beginning of July and the middle of October, from 
which date the rains gradually slacken, and the wet 
season ends as it began with a series of tornadoes ; these 
being much less severe than those which prevail at the 
break up of the hot season. As regards climate, the Ibo 
country shares the unenviable reputation of the West 
Coast of Africa. In the past it has maintained its evil 
reputation and fully justified its claim to rank as part of the 
" white man's grave." Under modern conditions health 
statistics among Europeans have improved wonderfully. 
The great increase in the number of doctors, the judicious 
use of quinine as part of the daily rations, the wider know- 
ledge of hygiene, and the short service system, have all 
conduced to a more satisfactory state of affairs. The 
climate itself is pleasant or the reverse according to a man's 
own temperament. One prefers the wet season, another 
the dry; both have their merits. The former is cooler 
but the conditions for travelling are frequently abomin- 
able. Rain falls in torrents, roads and tracks are converted 
into sluices, and one lives in a state of perpetual damp- 
ness. Outside the rain beats down mercilessly ; indoors 
one must search for a sheltered spot, for few native roofs 
can resist the downpours. To retire to bed protected by 
a macintosh and a bath towel, and even by an umbrella, 
as one has had to do on occasions, is very amusing in the 
retrospect but very uncomfortable in actual experience. 
There is nothing more irritating, and no more effectual 
preventive to sleep, than the drip, drip, drip of water 
upon one's face or body. 

In the dry season one is free from these discomforts, 
and camp can be made safely anywhere, but the sun and 
heat are liable to tax some constitutions rather severely. 

The spell of the coast, whether it be exercised by the 
country, the climate or the people, is apt to weave itself 


closely into the life of the average European. Whilst in the 
West Coast he roundly abuses country and climate, he 
is never amiss in his calculations concerning the date of 
his furlough. When on leave, immediately the novelty 
of the home-coming has worn off, his mind involuntarily 
wanders coastwards once more. It is the " West Coast 
feeling," whatever be the causes which produce it. 

There are, of course, unpleasant conditions to be en- 
dured by the resident in Nigeria, but only two that need 
be mentioned, viz., the violent tornadoes which sweep 
across the country with such destructive force, and, 
greatest of all nuisances, the insect pest. Mosquitoes, 
sand-flies, driver and white ants are positive plagues. 
In addition there are innumerable varieties of other 
insects which are increasingly active in their venomous 
attacks on man and beast. 

These minor trials and afflictions, however, are not 
sufficient to counteract the fascination that draws the 
European so persistently back to the Ibo country. 


the ibo country (continued) 

For many years intercourse with the Ibos was limited to 
those dwelling in the neighbourhood of the factories 
scattered here and there on the river banks. The traders 
had no special interest or inducement to penetrate into 
the interior, for trade filtered through to them, and the 
river afforded every facility for transport. They had 
simply to select suitable centres, and there barter for the 
produce brought in by land and water. 

Missionaries itinerated in various directions, but with 
no striking results. Eventually the lines of advance 
shaped themselves directly east and south of Onitsha 
on the one side, and west of Asaba on the other. There 
was no lack of reports from the interior. In the eastern 
hinterland the raiding expeditions of the Abams 1 were 
a fruitful source of fear, and the havoc wrought by the 
Ekwumeku 2 on the western side provided a topic for 
endless discussion in the streets and markets. 

Nor were these fears groundless. Cannibalism, human 
sacrifices and other savage customs were real facts, and 
flourished within five miles of the outskirts of Onitsha, 
and no one would dare swear that the inhabitants of even 
that town were all entirely innocent ! It is well within 
living memory that human sacrifices were offered, the 
death and burial of a king or notable chief being the most 
usual occasions. 

At one period I was living in a tiny hut set up in the 
bush some five miles east of Onitsha surrounded by a 
number of towns. Between two of these there was a feud 
of long standing. At intervals war broke out in earnest. 

1 and 2 See Chapter XXII for a description of these Societie . 



During the last campaign one party captured, and after- 
wards ate, seven of their opponents, whilst the other party 
secured only four victims. Regularly I visited the village 
of the attacked tribe, and was given a quiet, if not en- 
thusiastic reception. The Chief, in whose house I would 
sit down, used to listen quite placidly to the conversation. 
He would recline upon the goat-skin thrown on the floor, 
or quite frequently he would use the occasion to grind up 
snuff. Leaves of tobacco were parched in a potsherd, 
and then ground with a small wooden pestle in a crude 
mortar. After perhaps an hour's discussion, the Chief 
invariably brought the interview to an end by declaring 
that he and his people would be quite ready to take heed 
to the words spoken on the one condition, that I would 
first of all assist them. It was always the same request. 
The enemy had secured three more men than his people 
had captured ; if I would guarantee to arrange for three 
men to be handed over to balance matters, then they 
would be able to attend to other things. I might add that 
the account has never been settled to their satisfaction ! 

At that time I was accustomed to wander freely from 
village to village, very often unaccompanied. One morn- 
ing I was walking alone when I came upon a bundle of 
sticks lying in the path ; to this was attached a clean and 
fresh human skull, which I judged from the teeth and size 
to be that of a young man. It had been utilised as a 
fetish. It would act as a solemn warning to would-be 
thieves, and such a powerful " ju-ju " would ensure the 
owner finding his property intact, however long it was 
left on the road. It was in close proximity to this place 
that, as was well known, a cannibal feast had lately been 

Amongst our lads there was a small boy whose father 
had been a servant to the Niger Company. Whilst carry- 
ing a message to Obushi, the father was murdered and his 
body disposed of according to time-honoured custom. 

On one occasion I was resting outside my hut when a 
man of unprepossessing appearance came along and 
entered into conversation. His eldest son, then a small 
lad, had been placed by his father in the care of a mis- 


sionary, in order that he might receive instruction. In 
the course of his remarks he solemnly asserted that it 
would be of great benefit to his son if he were provided 
with human flesh sometimes as part of his diet. He 
maintained that, if this were done, a proper man's spirit 
would develop in the lad. 

The Royal Niger Company concluded many treaties with 
native chiefs and kings during their period of administra- 
tion of the country. By these treaties certain rights were 
conceded to the Company, and they in return, granted 
among other considerations, a promise of protection. 
The people of Awkuzu had ever been a truculent crowd, 
and raided not only on their own account but went further, 
and procured bands of Abams to assist them in their 
predatory excursions. An appeal to the Company for 
protection was made by a town in the neighbourhood, and 
in due course troops were dispatched to cool the ardour 
of the disturbers of the peace. 

The majority of the carriers employed for the soldiers 
were Onitsha men, and this is the story related concerning 
some of them. After some preliminary fighting, the 
troops entered Awkuzu and settled into camp. When all 
was apparently quiet a party of carriers considered the 
time was opportune for them to secure their share of the 
loot, and they went away bent on plunder. But the Awku- 
zus were wily men. They had anticipated the move and 
had planned a deliberate trap for possible looters. Some 
goats were placed in one of the compounds and the Awku- 
zus secreted themselves in the neighbourhood. Presently 
the gang of carriers arrived, attracted by the goats, and 
they walked right into the ambush. Some fought their 
way back to camp, but seventeen were left dead or alive, 
in the hands of the Awkuzu braves. The story is that of 
these the dead were eaten first, and later the wounded 
followed the fate of their comrades. Those who were 
uninjured were trussed up like fowls, and in this way kept 
until required. 

Towards the south, cannibal tendencies assumed a 
worse aspect. All that has been said hitherto relates to 
the prevalent custom of feasting upon captives taken in 


war. In the southern districts a regular traffic in human 
flesh was carried on. Strangers were caught, or slaves 
purchased, with the deliberate intention of converting 
them into food. Human flesh was a marketable com- 
modity, and a common article of diet. It is not long 
since a certain chief managed to get possession of one of 
his opponents against whom he had a grudge of long 
standing. He derived satisfaction from first lopping off 
the captive's ears and nose, and then flaying him alive. 
The carcase was eaten and the skin converted into a drum- 

There is not a shadow of doubt that, could the history 
of the Ibo country be clearly traced, a host of suchlike 
stories would have to be recorded. I have become ac- 
quainted with many erstwhile cannibals, and quite good- 
natured folk most of them are. One week-end I was stay- 
ing at a town a few miles S.E. of Onitsha. My quarters 
were very circumscribed, the only accommodation available 
being a tiny thatched lean-to shed against the compound 
wall, usually occupied by the goats and fowls. My boys 
and carriers shared the limited accomodation, lying at 
night alongside the camp-bed. After the evening meal, 
we settled down for the night, long before our customary 
bedtime ; consequently the men chattered freely. Pre- 
sently I became interested in the conversation, and 
amongst other items of news, gathered that they had all 
had a share in cannibal feasts. 

At first they were reticent, but gradually they opened 
out and announced what they considered to be the choicest 
tit-bits ; these, they affirmed, were the knuckles. They 
were strapping young fellows whom I had got to know 
sufficiently well to induce them to travel round with me. 
Since then they have all become Christians, and one is a 
very successful and much respected evangelist. 

In the late autumn of 1900, an opportunity presented 
itself for extending our knowledge of the country lying 
west of Asaba. Our party consisted of volunteers from 
amongst the native adherents, and we proceeded through 
the country as far as a large town called Abwor (Agbor). 
At the time the king still regarded himself as tributary to 


his majesty of Benin (in spite of the fact that there was 
then no king reigning there), and was acknowledged as 
second in prestige throughout the district. The first even- 
ing that I walked about Abwor I found a shrine with a 
human skull upon the altar, and I ascertained that the 
same views were held as regards human sacrifice that were 
held in Benin prior to the expedition of 1897. In 1904 
came the Rising of the Ekwumeku (commonly, but pro- 
bably incorrectly, described as the "Silent Ones"). An 
immense amount of damage was done before the in- 
surrection was quelled, whilst not long after, the 
massacre of one of the district commissioners, with his 
escort, ushered in a further period of trouble for the 

In such circumstances the carrier problem was a difficult 
one. Owing to the unsettled state of the country, it was 
not easy to persuade men to accompany one on journeys 
that took them far from their homes. Even when one got 
a following it was quite uncertain whether the men would 
stick to their task or desert, and one might find himself 
in an awkward and irritating predicament. On a certain 
occasion a compact was made between myself and another 
missionary. We arranged to leave our respective quarters 
on the same day, and for our routes to cut one another at 
a fixed point ; my companions would then join his party 
and the canoemen who had brought him up the creek were 
to convey me down to Onitsha. The distance was not 
great, and soon after 2 p.m. (after some eight hours on the 
road), I arrived at the appointed spot on the bank of the 
creek. My colleague was to land a few miles further up 
and, as they returned down-stream, the canoemen were 
to look out for me. A couple of miles before we reached 
the creek, my companions, with the exception of one lad, 
struck northwards in order to intercept the other party. 
On arrival at the water's edge we looked for the canoe, 
but our expectations ended in complete disappointment, 
for it never appeared. I had no kit with me, our food 
was exhausted, and altogether the situation was rather 
humiliating. Hour after hour went by and the sun went 
down. Finally, we came across an old fisherman who, 


seeing we were completely at his mercy, agreed to paddle 
us down river, at his own price. He conducted us to his 
primitive landing stage, but no canoe was visible. In 
reply to our inquiry as to the whereabouts of his craft, he 
merely gave a curt nod in the direction of the water. 
He then waded out up to his middle, dived down and fished 
up his little " dug-out " from the bottom. It was badly 
battered, and before embarking the man had to plug several 
holes with clay. As the canoe was only intended for one, 
the added weight of two passengers was almost too much 
for it. It was a ticklish business getting aboard, and even 
more difficult to make headway. The ordinary canoeman 
never sits on the floor, but on the gunwale or the small flat 
stern piece. From start to finish my business was to bale 
out for, being so deeply laden, we shipped water at every 
stroke of the paddle. Darkness soon fell, and almost 
immediately we struck a submerged tree, and were only 
saved from disaster by the smart movements of our 
navigator. To illustrate the skill of these canoemen it 
may be mentioned that when it became dark our man — 
a tall and heavily built individual — carefully raised him- 
self, stood up in the stern, and balanced himself with a 
foot on either side of the canoe. In this position he paddled 
with long sweeping strokes. He maintained this attitude 
for some four hours, only resting once when we were forced 
to run to the bank for shelter whilst a powerful breeze was 
blowing. When a strong wind blows, especially up-stream, 
the waters of the Niger are rough and dangerous for small 

On arrival at my destination, I ascertained that my 
colleague had fulfilled his part of the programme and had 
proceeded up the creek. Soon after landing, however, 
panic seized the men because they thought they were 
expected to act as carriers for the land journey. Hence, 
after depositing the loads, a rush was made for the canoe ; 
they cast off from the bank and never rested until they 
were home again. My colleague fared worse than I did, 
inasmuch as the influence of the first deserters led to most 
of the remaining followers also leaving him, and he did 
not come in until a week later, all his plans having been 


frustrated, to say nothing of his having spent an uncom- 
fortable time adrift in the bush. 

The plan I usually adopted (and do still) when travelling 
in the Ibo country is a simple one. If but a short visit 
to a strange town was intended, I went accompanied by 
not more than two natives, one of whom would have some 
knowledge of English and be capable of rendering assist- 
ance should any language difficulties arise. For a more 
prolonged stay three carriers were added to the party, 
and we were seldom more than half a dozen in number. 
Such a small company aroused no suspicion, more especi- 
ally because it was obvious to the inhabitants that we 
carried no fire-arms. Our numbers might have been 
reduced yet further, but there are no beasts of burden in 
the country, and therefore all loads have to be carried by 
men. Unless a direct invitation had been received from 
someone else I made a point of going straight to the house 
of the paramount chief and of putting myself under his 
protection. This plan was invariably successful. Having 
explained the reasons for our visit and allayed any sus- 
picions he may have entertained, we were able to converse 
on easy terms. Immediately this stage was reached the 
chief would indicate that kola nut should be brought and 
once this was shared we were quickly on friendly terms. 

The Ibo is Very hospitable, and many of the chiefs are 
nature's gentlemen. Sometimes it came to our knowledge 
that we had ventured into what might have been awk- 
ward situations, but, personally, I noted suspicious fea- 
tures on but the rarest occasions. Being naturally of a 
highly nervous disposition, my mind was often assailed 
by imaginary troubles prior to starting on tour, but having 
begun the journey, these were quickly forgotten in the keen 
interest of the expedition. As all travelling had to be done 
on foot, by the time our destination was reached I was too 
fatigued to think of anything but food and rest. The 
depressing times, as already stated, were when we 
journeyed through a downpour of rain, and crept into 
camp miserable and chilly, with all our belongings soaked 
with water. Cheerfulness is a special grace in these cir- 
cumstances. Matters improve, however, after a rest and 


food, and it is not long before the discomforts of the way 
are forgotten. 

Contrary to the general rule of making a very early 
start I prefer waiting until after breakfast, and frequently 
choose the afternoon hours for travelling. 

During my early days it was the custom to rise at an 
unearthly hour, strike camp whilst it was still dark, and 
get off: as dawn appeared. This meant disturbed and cur- 
tailed rest, being nipped by voraciously hungry mosquitoes 
which had hunted all night for their prey, and bad tempers 
all round. It was too early to eat anything substantial, 
and yet one knew that not to do so meant reaching famish- 
ing point before the next meal was forthcoming. The 
mornings may be either chilly or oppressive, and every- 
thing is drenched with dew. Often and often one has been 
wet through to the skin within ten minutes of starting, 
and cold dew is distinctly uncomfortable. It also meant 
marching in wet clothes until the sun was well up to dry 
them. It occurred to me that this was anything but a 
healthy practice, and hence I tried starting at later hours. 
I now infinitely prefer setting forth at a reasonable hour 
of the day, after one has been able to partake of a sub- 
stantial meal with some measure of comfort. The heat 
and glare are sometimes trying, but these drawbacks are 
more easily endured than the depressed and sinking feeling 
necessitated by early starts. 

Travelling in this simple manner I was never once 
molested, and have never had cause to grumble at the 
treatment meted out to me at any of the places visited, 
however evil the reputations they may have borne. 



Life in an Ibo village is at once simple and picturesque. 
The houses, the general environment, the dependence 
upon local natural resources, and the contentment with 
the barest modicum of those articles which are usually 
regarded as indispensable in a household, all these, together 
with the easy-going spirit amongst the village folk, foster 
and maintain a life of extreme simplicity. Discontent 
with primitive conditions comes only with the introduction 
of novelties from the outside world, and then, like a child, 
the Ibo covets what he sees. Left to himself he neither 
needs nor desires foreign luxuries, but once the possibility 
of securing them presents itself, be they ever so incon- 
gruous, he will not relax his efforts until they become his 
cherished possessions. 

A missionary has unique opportunities of becoming 
acquainted with village life, for from the very nature of 
things the soundest policy is for him to live in the closest 
communion with the people whom he seeks to influence. 
So it comes about that he enters freely into the life of the 
natives ; their huts are always open to him and he goes 
in and out more or less as one of themselves. In like 
manner they expect the missionary's house to be free to 
them, and to come and go as they please. 

There is nothing symmetrical about the Ibo village, 
a fact which tends to make it the more picturesque. It 
would be thought that at least one point would be kept 
well in mind when fixing the location of a village, viz. a 
water supply. But in a great many cases this detail does 
not appear to have been taken into consideration when 
selecting sites. Again and again one meets people toiling 



to and from the supply situated perhaps from one to three 
miles away. With the exception of those actually situated 
on the banks of streams, it is usual to find the villages at a 
distance from water ; indeed very often there is no adequate 
supply, the people simply dig catch-pits for the storage of 
surface water. In the wet season there is no lack, but in 
the dry months water is scarce and that stored in the pits 
becomes stagnant. In some districts the traveller must 
carry water, for he is likely to experience difficulty in 
obtaining any en route fit for consumption, and a bath is 
but an occasional luxury. Whilst travelling through such 
a district some years ago for three days we were denied 
the comfort of even a decent wash. For drinking purposes 
recourse can generally be had to cocoanut milk or palm 
wine. The former is preferable, as the natives dilute the 
palm wine very freely, and they are not particular whence 
the water for the purpose is drawn ! 

The huts are planted down just where the builders 
fancy, in all sorts of places and at every conceivable angle. 
The roads are adapted to the houses, and wind in and out 
between the walls in most bewildering fashion. In the 
evening time, when the setting sun casts its softened rays 
over the scene, the village presents a pleasing prospect, 
The terra-cotta coloured walls, and the thatched roofs, 
blend most harmoniously with the luxuriant foliage all 
around, the whole being topped by the graceful palms or 
shadowed by giant bombax and other large trees. 

In the ilos (streets), the children are playing happily 
in the sand : a company of boys are imitating ju-ju 
ceremonies, and probably a bevy of merry girls are dancing 
with whole-hearted enjoyment. The men lounge round 
in a leisurely manner ; a few of the younger, perhaps, 
engage in archery contests. In one corner a group of older 
men sit together deeply interested in a game of "okwe," 1 
a pastime common, I believe, throughout West Africa. 
The women and elder girls are engaged in work, but even 
they exhibit no signs of rush or worry. Some depart to 
fetch water, their large clay pots skilfully balanced on 
their heads $ others are busy with preparations for the 

1 See Chapter XI. 


evening meal. Little parties frequently sit in the street 
engaged in the tedious task of peeling "edde" (an edible root 
something like an artichoke in appearance, the leaves of 
which resemble those of gigantic arum lilies) — an occupa- 
tion which affords a rare opportunity for gossip. 

At a broad glance the whole scene is delightfully and 
charmingly picturesque, and it is advisable to follow the 
example of touring journalists, and be content with first 
and rapid impressions. These visitors have not the time 
for further investigation, and would not know where to 
look, or what to expect, even if they had. Should, how- 
ever, inspection be made at close range, the visitor is 
liable to be quickly and rudely disappointed, for there 
is no attempt whatever to observe one single law of sanita- 
tion. The houses and compounds are swept diligently 
daily, and the women take infinite pains in rubbing the 
walls and clay floors, but all the rubbish and filth are simply 
cast down in any available spot in or about the compound 
and the clumps of bush between the houses ; for all their 
attractive appearance, are little more than open cesspits. 

The towns are divided up into villages or wards, and are 
spread over a wide area, a town often extending over 
three or four miles of country. There is no overcrowding 
in the interior towns. There is abundant space for each 
family to have its own house, compound and farm ; in 
short, each household can be entirely independent of any 
other for all its needs. Every man understands the art 
of building and thatching. The materials he obtains from 
the surrounding bush. He puddles his own clay as near 
the site of the proposed building as he conveniently can, 
often in the compound itself. He and his dependents till 
the land and produce the main food supply. Fish and 
flesh are the only commodities likely to be sought from 
outside sources. If near a stream, the fish of which does 
not happen to be sacred, men and women trap or catch 
fish. Meat is not a common article of diet ; it is a luxury 
to the Ibo. 

Each village or ward has its own chief who enjoys the 
dignity and rights of a patriarch. He takes the lead in all 
public affairs, religious, social and political. Disputes are 


settled by him, and he used to preside at the trials of 
criminal offenders. He also, providing he has attained 
to the necessary rank, officiates at the sacrifices appointed 
for certain delinquencies, such as infidelity. 

Every village has its own market-place, fetish-houses 
and public meeting ground. The markets are designated 
by the names of the day on which they are held, viz. 
"Ekke," "Afaw," "Oye" (Olie) and "Nkwaw," these 
corresponding to the four days of the Ibo week. The life 
of the womenfolk largely consists in a continual round 
of marketing and the preparation of food, varied by farm 
work in the season. 

The fetish-houses are usually small and very crude ; 
indeed they are neglected and allowed to fall into great 
disrepair, until some wave of religious zeal leads to their 
temporary restoration. The people do not appear to 
worry concerning the ju-ju. Wind and weather may play 
havoc upon it during the period that their fervour is at a 
low ebb, and, as a considerable number of these gods are 
composed of clay, the result is somewhat disastrous, 
especially during the rainy season. However, a little 
patching, at the admonition of the Chief, or at the time of 
some special crisis, satisfies the people, and they conclude 
that the god ought to be satisfied also. This is a mere 
statement of fact, not a point of sentiment. A charge is 
sometimes levelled at missionaries that they entertain 
neither respect nor regard for the native religion ; but they 
probably understand the situation, and know the under- 
lying currents of thought better than their critics, who too 
often trumpet forth their opinions, though some of them 
have never visited the country at all, and others have 
made but a 4 ' so-many-miles-in-a-fortnight " sort of tour. 
I remember a case in which a colleague was interrogated 
by one such visitor. An opinion was asked concerning 
a certain custom. My colleague answered that he could 
not commit himself to anything definite, as he had not 
been able to probe to the bottom of the matter. The visitor 
thought this strange, and went on to remark that he had 
quite a clear conception of the custom, underlying principle 
and all, as he had been asking questions for the last two 

i. Girls from the Eastern Interior District preparing for Marriage* 
2. In Gala Dress 

hese girls are passing through the ceremony of Nkpu. They are wearing belts of tiny bells, and their 
legs are adorned with brass wire spirals, of which they are inordinately proud. 


days ! 1 My colleague replied that he had been working 
at the idea over a space of two whole years, and he was 
still far from being in a position to dogmatise on the 
subject under discussion. 

The public meeting ground (Ilo), is a charming spot ; 
a large open space shaded by one or more Awbu trees. 
Beginning a few feet from the ground, these trees throw 
out, at right angles to the stem, huge wide spreading 
branches. As these extend they are supported by props. 
The leaves are large and abundant and the tree when fully 
grown gives an almost perfect circle of shade sometimes 
as much as one hundred yards in circumference. 

These natural arbours eclipse all enclosed meeting halls. 
The crowd sits or lies upon the sandy floor, completely 
sheltered from the sun, each man assuming any attitude 
he pleases. Of course, fair weather is necessary to appre- 
ciate the advantages of the open-air conditions. The 
chief drawback is that the attention of the audience is apt 
to be diverted by every casual passer-by, and often some 
trivial incident will throw the meeting into hopeless 
disorder, and bring all business abruptly to an end. The 
people go ofr* at a tangent on the slightest provocation 
— they are much like children and find it difficult to con- 
centrate their minds for long together. Very similar con- 
ditions prevail in Hyde Park and other resorts of like 
character in England. It takes Very little to attract the 
attention of the crowd, and the numbers fall off immediately 
anything transpires which shows the least promise of being 
more entertaining. 

Meetings for many purposes are held in these open spaces: 
for the adjustment of differences between individuals or 
households : for the celebration of fixed feasts ; the 
offerings of common town sacrifices and on specially 
appointed occasions. Hundreds of people will assemble 
when an important question is under discussion, or a great 
function is in progress. Frequently the ilo serves also 
as the market-place, in which case it is the rendezvous of 

1 This student of native customs relied on a youth, an ex-labourer, as 
interpreter," whose knowledge of English was equal to a Standard II 
sohool reader ! 


great crowds of haggling buyers and sellers who create a 
din only to be compared to that of an English fair — minus 
the steam organs. 

Having taken a general view of the village we now turn 
to a closer examination of the houses and compounds. 
These vary very much in different localities. At Onitsha 
the compounds resemble those in vogue in the Yoruba 
country, a fact which serves as an additional argument in 
support of the tradition that the chief inhabitants of that 
town are of Bini origin. The compound is rectangular 
in form. Against three sides of its surrounding wall, and 
occasionally on the fourth side also, small compartments 
are constructed round an open courtyard. The one en- 
trance is on the side next to the roadway, and it is usually 
so diminutive that on entering caution is necessary if one 
wishes to preserve one's anatomy from knocks and 
scratches. The rooms are raised a foot or two above ground 
level. The courtyard being open, in the rainy season it 
frequently resembles a pond, but the greater part of the 
water quickly disappears through a channel cut through 
the main wall for the purpose. The walls of the building 
are of puddled clay, and the roof is constructed of bamboo 
or split palm stems, thatched with grass or palm-leaf mats. 
East of Onitsha the distinct Ibo plan is adopted. Here 
the compound is enclosed with a boundary wall from four 
to ten feet in height, thatched to protect it from the heavy 
rains. The area enclosed depends upon the space available, 
and not on the social position of the owner. Inside this 
compound stands a collection of huts of irregular shape, 
anyhow and anywhere. Aspect, elevation and proximity 
to other buildings, are not considered by the Ibo. Very 
few of the huts are large ; in most cases the back wall alone 
is carried up to the eaves ; sometimes the ends, and always 
the front, being left open to admit air and light. The 
roofs slope down to within two or three feet of the ground, 
and are constructed of close rafters covered with a very 
thick and heavy thatch of grass. On the western side of 
the river the thatch consists of uma leaves tied on by 
their stalks. The roofs are very steeply pitched, a method 
born of experience of tropical downpours. The low eaves 


also afford entire protection from the sun. The floor 
is composed of beaten clay, raised a foot or two above 
the ground level. It is polished by the womenfolk with 
clay-water. To prevent it wearing into holes it may be 
studded with palm nuts (nkpulu ugwu-olo), a hard seed 
resembling a plum stone. 

The furniture and adornments of the hut are curious. 
The underside of the roof is permeated with lamp-black, 
very dirty, but nevertheless a great preservative to the 
thatch, and a deterrent to mosquitoes and other undesirable 
insects. Suspended from the rafters are dozens of skulls 
of goats, cows, pigs, monkeys and maybe, human skulls 
also. These gruesome objects, filthy with smoke and dirt, 
are records of feasts and sacrifices. They are kept as a 
display of affluence rather than as fetishes, a custom com- 
parable with the practice of mounting antlers and other 
trophies in English houses. 

In addition, there are various articles indicating some 
of the habits and occupations of the owner ; wicker fish 
traps, flagons made from gourds and used in collecting 
and storing palm wine, native hoes and a miscellaneous 
collection of odds and ends. The fire is on the floor in the 
centre of the hut, and is seldom allowed to die out, it 
being kept alight by long logs of slow-burning wood. Near 
by is the master's pipe and a rough wooden bowl — polished 
by constant friction — used for grinding snuff. Usually 
there is no actual furniture other than a skin or two upon 
which the owner reclines upon the floor. Visitors usually 
bring their own chairs or skins if they require such luxuries. 
A special friend may be accommodated with a grass mat, a 
gin case, or a stool, and one has even had to make shift with 
half a cocoanut shell. This is not so uncomfortable as it is 
apt to sound, especially if the husk still covers the shell. 
An inclination to stoutness is likely to give rise to awkward 
situations, but happily deportment is of little moment. 

Various patterns of beds are in use, movable and fixed. 
One of the former consists of a simple frame on four legs 
over which a layer of offolaw (palm-stems) is fixed cross- 
wise. The immovable beds are supported by the two rear 
legs being sunk into the floor, and the two horizontal end 


pieces being buried into the side-wall of the hut ; these 
also are covered with offolaw. Another variety consists 
of solid clay couches with a raised headpiece for a pillow. 
The native who objects to lodging on the " cold, cold 
ground " shows his ingenuity by making a cosy couch. 
A mound of well-beaten clay about seven feet by three feet, 
and two and a half feet in height, is banked against the 
inner wall of the house, and then the side is hollowed out 
in the form of an arch. In this cavity fire is placed and 
thus the bed is warmed through. On the death of a man 
of high social rank the corpse may be left on such a bed 
and the heat increased in order to dry and shrivel the 
body, and thus preserve it until satisfactory funeral 
arrangements can be arranged. 

The head of the house has his own particular hut. Each 
wife has also her own which she shares with her children 
until the sons grow up, when they build themselves 
bachelor's quarters. Adjoining the chief's private apart- 
ment is the recess where the household gods are paraded, 
the family Ikenga occupying the position of honour. In 
front of the main building are one or more sacred ebwo 
trees which serve as a sacrificial grove. Just inside the 
entrance to the compound is a rude shelter for the guardian 
ju-ju of that particular house. 

Cooking utensils are few and simple. In the vicinity 
of trading factories cast-iron negro pots are in great favour, 
but in the interior earthen vessels are employed. The fire- 
place consists of three stones or lumps of burnt clay, or if a 
back wall be available, and this is greatly preferred, two 
stones suffice. When a feast is in preparation, cooking 
operations may be transferred to the open compound, 
and, for public festivities, to the ilo itself. Considerable 
ingenuity is then shown in improvising temporary ranges. 
A narrow trench is dug running several yards in a straight 
line, and at intervals right-angled cross-cuts are made. 
The pots are balanced over the junctions where the cross 
sections cut the main trench, and firewood is pushed in on 
either side. Thus the number of cooking pots can be 
multiplied indefinitely. 

Close alongside the hearth is the indispensable pestle 


and mortar— heavy with cumbersome articles. The latter 
is hewn out of a solid block of urok timber, a hard wood 
similar to oak. The pestle is about 2 J ft. in length and is 
of the same material, corresponding in weight with the 
mortar. The Meal of the day, i.e., the evening one, cannot 
be prepared without these utensils. 

The head of the house keeps the awba, or yam stack, 
strictly in his own charge, and he hands out the daily 
supply. The rinds are hacked off, and the yam split into 
chunks. It is then cooked in a similar way to potatoes. 
When sufficiently boiled the blocks of yam are placed in 
the mortar, the pestle is dipped in water, and pounding 
begins. This is continued until the mass assumes the con- 
sistency of dough, and the resemblance is so close that the 
casual onlooker might mistake it for that article. The 
pounding appears to be a very simple business but it is 
really difficult, and a distinct knack has to be acquired. 
The pulverised yam is very sticky, and an inexperienced 
hand will pull the whole lump out of the mortar and roll 
it in the dust, thus rendering it unfit for use. One has 
never yet seen a European pound yam with passable 
success, and he also finds the labour very fatiguing, whereas 
the natives, men, women and children, are experts in 
manipulating the pestle. 

Meantime another pot is stewing over the fire and this 
contains the soup or relish. It consists of water, purest 
palm-oil (that which is extracted from the outside flesh 
of the nuts), pepper, salt, herbs and smoked fish or meat, 
the last of nondescript nature and origin. When all is 
prepared the pot of soup is placed on the ground in the 
centre of the group of diners. Before each person is a ball 
of pounded yam called nni-ji, resembling an unbaked 
Cobourg loaf. A portion is pinched off the lump, rolled 
between the fingers to the size and shape of an egg, dipped 
well into the relish, and swallowed at a gulp. The pill, 
large as it is, causes no inconvenience to the Ibo. No 
attempt is made to masticate the food, and it disappears 
at an amazing rate. An enormous amount is eaten at 
these evening meals, and the native wants little more for 
the next twenty-four hours, 


The head of the house dines alone in his private apart- 
ment, each wife in turn attending to his needs. He uses 
his own drinking cup, which he never allows out of his own 
possession. No other person must handle it; he has no 
wish for poison to be administered in his cup. 

In the choice of meat the Ibo exhibits no fads. Usually 
he must be content with smoked fish. Domestic animals 
are scarce, and are seldom killed except for sacrificial 
purposes or for very special feasts. When any are killed, 
the carcases are hacked to pieces with axes and matchets, 
straight through skin and bones. Not the smallest particle 
is wasted, even the entrails being consumed. The blood 
is caught and allowed to solidify. It is then cut in pieces 
and cooked in the same manner as the liver. Wild animals 
are treated likewise, of whatever species they may be, 
large or small, young or old, diseased or otherwise. The 
only part shunned is the gall-bladder, the contents of 
which are believed to be deadly poison, that of some 
animals being much more feared than others. Leopards, 
monkeys, dogs, snakes, lizards, anything indeed that can 
be called fish, flesh or fowl is acceptable to the Ibo. Men 
have begged permission to shake the thatch of my house 
during the day-time in order to catch the small bats which 
shelter there. When thus disturbed the little creatures 
fly out, and are dazed by the light and, before they can 
recover themselves, they are struck down. Men have also 
made request to dig in the compound to unearth field 
mice. With the sole exception of the sacred python, 
snakes when killed are immediately tailed and headed — 
the tail being feared almost as much as the head, as it is 
thought to be capable of inflicting a poisonous sting. The 
extremities are buried on the spot whilst the still wriggling 
reptile is carried off to supplement the stock of food in 
the family larder. Those who have forsaken paganism 
include the python in their list of delicacies, the snake 
which is accounted sacred by the ordinary native. Rather 
late one night I had to pay a visit to the Institution dor- 
mitory to dress a sore foot for a lad. An extraordinary 
quietness aroused my suspicions and, at the same time, 
I was conscious of an extremely inviting odour. Upon 


investigation I discovered a little clandestine supper-party 
enjoying themselves greatly — a large python had been un- 
earthed from its hole and killed, and the nest robbed of 
thirty-four eggs. Practically the whole of the snake and 
all the eggs vanished that night ! 

On another night, after we had retired to bed, we were 
disturbed by frantic screechings issuing from the fowl 
house. The result of our sortie was that a small python 
(7 ft. 4 in.), caught in the act of raiding the roost, came 
to a violent end. I wanted the skin, and said the reptile 
must be left till the morning. It was only with great 
difficulty that the boys could be prevented from cutting 
up and eating the creature that night, in spite of the fact 
that they had but recently partaken of a heavy meal. 

One day one of the men shot a python some fifteen feet 
in length. Judging by his bloated appearance we conjec- 
tured that he must have had a substantial breakfast. 
It was owing to this, and the subsequent heavy sleep after 
the meal, that he lost his life. Imagine our astonishment 
when, after a surgical operation, we discovered that he 
had chosen a porcupine as his morning tit-bit, taking care 
however, to swallow it head first, the quills being thus 
pressed flat to its body and so preventing their business 
ends from causing uncomfortable internal sensations. 
But what amazed us more, and gives occasion for relating 
the incident at all, was the request of a gentleman present 
for the body of the porcupine (upon which the gastric 
juices had already been actively at work) to provide an 
evening meal ! The python was taken in hand by the 
members of our compound and was pronounced " prime 

I was busy at work one afternoon when some men 
began to run and shout, and soon afterwards two of them 
came along with a slim black snake, six feet in length, 
killed in the act of stalking a chicken. The two men moved 
a few yards away, collected some dry grass and started a 
fire. The reptile, balanced upon a stick, was thrust into 
the flames and smoke until it was charred, but by no means 
cooked, and the men promptly devoured it. These snakes 
usually hunt in couples, so a watch was kept for the mate, 


and within a couple of hours number two had met with a 
similar fate. 

Many attempts have been made to keep horses in the 
Ibo country, and a number have been brought down from 
Northern Nigeria, but they survived only a short time, 
owing to tsetse fly. As one of these neared its end, several 
natives sought to purchase it, but their offers met with 
indignant refusal and, instead, the poor brute was decently 
buried. But alas ! it was not allowed to rest. Under 
cover of darkness the carcase was snatched, the natives 
strongly disapproving of the waste of so much good 
" beef." 

After dark one evening I was strolling round and came 
upon a group of youths very intent on some business. On 
inquiry I found that shares had been taken up in the 
purchase of a dog. It was cut up into thirty penny 
shares, each youth taking one or more according to his 
resources. The native dogs, which are met with in every 
village but are not numerous, are of the pariah type, and 
are kept solely to serve as scavengers. They are small and 
scraggy and the refuse consumed by them is vile beyond 

One might relate many examples, but these will suffice 
to demonstrate the Ibo's taste in flesh food. His canni- 
balistic propensities have been touched upon in a previous 
chapter. It will be seen that nothing comes amiss to the 
native. The limit is perhaps reached in those towns where 
even the evil-smelling, refuse-eating vultures are valued 
chiefly for their putrid flesh. 

The Ibo village then, for all that is so picturesque, set in 
the midst of beautiful surroundings, and radiant with 
colour, is not the sweetest of places. But its failure to 
come up to expectations is due not so much to its natural 
environment, but is rather an illustration of the words : — 

' ' Where every prospect pleases, 
And only man is vile." 

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Those who strive to combat infantile mortality in Eng- 
land are confronted with many difficulties, and probably 
the greatest of all are those arising from the ignorance, 
prejudice and superstition of the parents, though the last 
term may not be acknowledged. 

When we inquire into the conditions of child life amongst 
the Ibo people, we soon discover that the methods adopted 
in dealing with young children are so drastic that it is 
surprising, not that many die, but that any survive at all. 
That so many do pull through demonstrates the infant's 
tenacious hold upon life. 

From the very first the Ibo baby must run the gauntlet 
of all manner of perils, some the outcome of deliberate 
intention to injure, others the result of ignorance and 
superstition. In many parts if the infant fails to cry 
vigorously at birth, it forfeits its life, the omission being 
considered an evil omen. A similar fate befalls children 
whose mothers die before they are about six months old. 
The birth of twins is a calamity of the first magnitude, 
and spells disaster for them and the unfortunate mother. 
The underlying idea is that it has been ordained that 
mankind should propagate his species by single births, 
in contradistinction to animals ; for a woman to bear 
more than one child at a birth is to degrade humanity 
to the level of the brute creation. Plural offspring is 
nature's law for goats and dogs ; for a woman to imitate 
them in this respect fills the Ibo with unspeakable disgust. 
Mother and children are cursed and subjected to con- 
tempt and ill-treatment. The woman makes no attempt 
to defend herself or her children ; she accepts the situation 



dumbly, and merely wonders why she, especially, has been 
selected for such dishonour. Her hatred of her offspring 
is as bitter as that of her relatives and neighbours. She 
turns from them with loathing and despair and, unless 
compelled, will make no effort to nurse them. It is believed 
that in some mysterious manner there has been an unholy 
alliance with an evil spirit during sleep, and the second 
child is the result. 

With all haste the abominations must be removed. The 
children are thrust into an old waterpot without even a 
passing thought for the pain inflicted. Cocoanut fibre 
or leaves are thrown in to cover them, and the pot is then 
deposited in some lonely spot in the bush. The newly 
born infants receive no attention whatsoever. They are 
cast away at once, as unclean in the sight of gods and 

It is astonishing how long some of the children survive 
after being treated thus ; this extraordinary vitality 
being due, perhaps, to the fact that the umbilical cord is not 

In one case of castaways with which I had to deal, they 
had been lying a whole night, and the greater part of the 
next day, in the bush — at least sixteen hours. One died 
from injuries either deliberately inflicted or received when 
being forced through the neck of the pot ; the other, and 
uppermost, child had escaped serious injury and has since 
grown into a sturdy boy, mother and child having been 
kept under supervision for some months at the medical 

This method of dealing with twins is reckoned to be the 
only one open to the parents, as by acting thus they hope 
to avert further calamity. To permit the children to live 
would amount to a direct challenge to the malignant 
spirits, and the parents, and indeed the whole community, 
would be exposed to all manner of dangers. 

There is no alternative for the Ibo but to cast them out. 
This is the kind of custom that legislation finds very 
difficult to eliminate, as the influence of the supernatural 
is much stronger than that exercised by human instru- 
mentality, and it is in such circumstances that missionary 


effort can and does play an important part in the evolution 
of the savage. 

Polygamy is the recognised rule, and some of the marital 
customs which arise from this institution are peculiar, e.g. 
it is an unforgivable sin for two wives to give birth to 
children on the same day. As with twins, mothers and 
children are made to suffer the full penalty for such 
misdemeanours . 

No provision whatsoever is made preparatory to the 
birth of the child. The prospective mother continues her 
daily round in the most unconcerned manner. Conse- 
quently it not infrequently happens that the child is born 
at an inconvenient time and place, perhaps whilst the 
woman is at the farm or by the roadside during the journey 
to or from market. When confinement takes place at 
home a native midwife may attend, and she is assisted by 
the grandmother of one of the parents (the maternal one 
preferably) or by some other ancient dame. For the first 
day or two after birth the mother does not nurse the child. 
The women declare that the first milk is " bitter " and 
quite unfit for the child. To test the quality of the milk 
ants are used. A small quantity is expressed and placed 
on the ground. If the ants refrain from tasting it or, if 
they consume it and death follows, then it is assumed 
that the milk possesses poisonous qualities. If they take 
it greedily then it will prove to be wholesome food for the 
child. Instead of the mother nursing her child from the 
hour of birth the old woman in attendance attempts to 
suckle it, a custom as disgusting as it is fickle. 

Coverings for the newly-born infant are not forthcoming. 
In the tropics this is not a serious matter, but still the 
cold clay floor does not improve the chances of the child 
any more, perhaps, than its being held in, and afterwards 
washed in, cold water, immediately after birth. 

The babe must always sleep with its mother. The 
introduction of a crib by the wife of a West Indian mis- 
sionary raised very grave doubts as to whether she cared 
for her child. To put the baby " upon a shelf," as if it 
were a common utensil, was utterly incompatible with the 
local ideas of affection. To neglect the child thus showed 


a complete want of love, and a scant respect even for 

The rite of circumcision is usually performed on both 
boys and girls between the third and eighth day after 
birth. The time, however, varies in different towns, the 
operation being often postponed until the age of puberty 
is reached. It is the common practice to postpone the rite 
on the western side of the Niger. No religious rites what- 
ever accompany the operation, which is performed by 
both men and women without restriction. 

Naming the child is an important function. It is a 
mark of honour and respect to be invited to give a name, 
and the privilege is usually reserved for one of the elder 
relatives. Two or more names may be given, the first 
almost invariably taking the form Nwa (child, in combina- 
tion with the name of the day on which the child was 
born, e.g. Nwa-ekke — the child of Ekke day). The second 
name is suggested by the display of some characteristic 
trait, or some resemblance, fancied or otherwise, to a 
deceased member of the family. The Ibo believes that all 
children are reincarnations of beings who have already 
passed through a lifetime in this world ; hence a man 
will point to a little girl and gravely inform you that she 
is his mother reborn into the world. 1 The child will 
consequently be given the name of the relative it is sup- 
posed to resemble, and as such will receive a joyful welcome 
back to earth. It is a time of great rejoicing and feasting, 
and large quantities of palm-wine are consumed in cele- 
brating the occasion. 

When there is a dedication of the child it takes place 
on the same day as the naming. Ordinarily this rite is 
confined to boys. The " dibia " (medicine man) detects some 
sign which convinces him that this baby is a reincarnation 
of a former dibia and hence, ipso facto, he must be dedicated 
to the medical cult. The boy lives with his parents until 
he is about eight years of age, and is then transferred to 
the care of the dibia. As he grows up he is gradually 
initiated into all the mysteries of the profession. This is the 
manner in which the ranks of the dibias are recruited. 
1 See also Chapter X, 


Besides a supposed resemblance to a departed dibia, and 
the consequent dedication to that service, children of 
either sex may be devoted to the "alusi 5 ' (idols). This is 
always the case when a child is born within the precincts 
of an idol house. Such births may occur, as already stated, 
when the mother is unable to reach home before confine- 
ment. The child is claimed by the priest on behalf of the 
alusi and is consecrated (married) to it for life. 

The cutting of baby's first tooth is a source of keen 
interest to the community and of serious anxiety to the 
parents, for upon it hang the issues of life and death for 
the child. Should it pierce the lower gum, then all is 
satisfactory, and it is the signal for great rejoicing and 
mutual congratulation. On the contrary should it prove 
to be an upper tooth, the omen is bad and the child's 
fate will be similar to that of twins. The unfortunate child, 
now a few months old, after being thrust into the waterpot, 
is thrown into the " bad bush " and is condemned to endure 
terrible agony before death ensues. 

The prevailing superstitions instigate the people to 
commit these foul deeds, and in their religious beliefs the 
root principles for these customs must be sought. It is 
owing to their anxiety lest they themselves should offend, 
and, therefore, suffer at the hands of the evil spirits, that 
they are prompted to sacrifice their offspring. They simply 
obey the dictates of fear. 

Babies are handled in a very crude fashion. To lift a 
child it is grasped by the forearm, and swung up into the 
desired position, yet in spite of this apparent carelessness, 
shoulder joints do not appear to suffer and the children 
themselves show no signs of pain. 

Hot water is used for the morning bath for very young 
babies, the idea being that this will assist in the massage 
and limb -stretching operations. Occasionally the proceed- 
ings are distinctly curious, and I cannot do better than give 
the following description, culled from the observations 
of the missionary in charge of the Twin Rescue Home at 
Onitsha. This account will further illustrate the Ibo ideas 
on the management of newly-born babies. The mother 
sits upon a low seat with her apparatus handy. This 


consists of a small cooking pot, containing liquid in which 
a certain herb has been stewed, and a bundle of fibre 
obtained from a native loofah. She places the baby upon 
its back in her lap, and then applies the concoction in- 
ternally and externally. For the internal application the 
left hand is placed funnel-wise at the corner of the child's 
mouth, with the little finger pressing on the nostrils. It is 
thus forced to keep its mouth open in order to breathe, 
and the liquid is then allowed to trickle through the 
curved hand into the mouth, and thence down the throat, 
the poor baby, meanwhile, protesting as vigorously as 
its restricted opportunities will permit, and appearing to 
be in imminent danger of suffocation. 

The child having been forced to swallow the dose, the 
loofah is now dipped into the liquid and strenuously applied 
to the body ; the bones of the skull are pressed together, 
and the spine and limbs are massaged in a more or less 
methodical manner. 

The ablutions completed, the mother blows into the 
eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears with a force one would think 
must produce paralysis of the tiny brain. Finally, stream- 
ing wet, the babe is put down to rest, sometimes on a 
banana leaf beside the fire, sometimes on a piece of cloth, 
and often simply on the bare floor with nothing but a 
rough pad beneath the head. This treatment — Spartan 
though it be — is nevertheless beneficial, for the children 
thrive under it, and in cases where European and Ibo 
methods have been practised simultaneously on two in- 
fants, the greater success of the native system has been 
clearly demonstrated. 

For children's disorders native remedies are applied 
with varying effects. Suffice here to give one prescription 
noted down by the superintendent of the Home, viz. 
that adopted in the case of a wasting infant. " Seven ants 
cut in halves, mixed with proportions of red pepper, chalk, 
red ochre and palm-oil ; this preparation to be well rubbed 
into the body, when the tiny insect infecting the skin will 
come out in the semblance of small white hairs. It must 
be stated as a simple fact — neither for nor against native 
medicines, that very beneficial results have followed this 


treatment. After a few applications the child has visibly 
fattened, whether from the effect of the remedy or of the 
massage cannot be confidently asserted." 

For babies in good health the morning (warm) bath is 
followed by massage and stretching of the limbs. The 
muscles are vigorously squeezed and the joints well 
stretched ; the nose is also pressed and pulled to induce 
it to assume what is considered the orthodox shape. Water 
is poured into the child's mouth and nostrils, and often the 
baby is held by the ankles and, upside down, is shaken in 
order, so it is alleged, to drive the water to all parts of the 
body. After food has been taken it is a common custom 
to toss the child, throwing it into the air and catching it 
again. This is done with the idea of providing healthy 
exercise after meals. Little children are taken by the 
ankles and swung round in circles, chiefly for amusement. 
Small boys are tossed and swung round also in order to 
develop fearlessness. One of the objects of half choking 
the baby by pouring water into the nostrils, is to prepare 
it for the first sensations when learning to swim. 

As the young native mother is expected to carry out the 
full household duties, including the perpetual marketing, 
she must needs carry the baby about with her, or leave it 
in the care of others. If she decide for the former plan, 
in the more civilised centres the woman takes a loin cloth 
in her hand ; then leaning well forward she swings the 
baby — with its arms and legs outstretched — across the 
lower part of her back. The cloth is then thrown dexter- 
ously over the child and the ends brought round to the 
front, pulled up tightly, the edges rolled, and the ends 
tucked in. The baby appears to ride in a precarious 
manner, but in reality is held quite securely, and in this 
position it rests and sleeps as peacefully as in a cot. The 
mother's hands are perfectly free and, with a little assist - 
cnce in raising or lowering her basket, she will carry a 
heavy load upon her head to and from the market. 

If not going any appreciable distance, the mode of 
carrying a child is to swing it up by the arm, and to place 
it astride upon the hip, the infant assuming a semi-recum- 
bent attitude and clinging tightly with one hand. The 


child is usually suckled whilst in this position. When a 
woman decides to leave her child at home, it is put into 
the care of one of the younger members of the household ; 
where possible a boy-nurse is chosen for a boy, and a girl 
for a girl-baby. As the Ibo mother does not concern 
herself about regularity in feeding the child, she goes on 
with her occupation regardless of the needs of the baby left 
at home. The youngster who has charge of it manages 
very well for a time. When hunger begins to trouble the 
baby, and it asserts the fact in the usual manner, recourse 
is had to the water-cure for crying. Every time the child 
begins to cry, the nurse promptly pours water into the 
open mouth, and the process is repeated as required until 
the mother returns. 

There is no fixed time for weaning — in fact, the custom 
does not really exist, infants being naturally fed until they 
themselves refuse the milk. In this connection it should 
be noted that it is contrary to the custom of the Ibos for a 
woman to bear a child until the interval of at least three 
years has elapsed since the birth of the previous (if still 
living) child. Hence the infant is suckled for a considerable 
period after it has begun to run about, indeed, it behaves 
very much after the manner of the little goats running 
about the compound. 

Parents manifest deep fondness for their children, 
What appears to be inexpressibly cruel on occasions does 
not arise from savage, inhuman propensities, but is the 
logical and inevitable outcome of their creed. In their 
earliest years the children are very attractive, with pleasant 
features, chubby faces, and large dark liquid eyes. When 
quite young the predominant peculiarities of the negro 
type are not pronounced. Children are priceless posses- 
sions, and no man can have too many ; the more he has 
the more will he be respected and envied by the community. 
Between actual brothers and sisters, and between children 
of the one father but by different mothers there are strong 
ties of affection. Each must, and will, help the others 
always, and by all means. The mother's love for the child, 
and vice versa, are perhaps the most remarkable elements 
in the family relationships. The son may not always 


treat his mother kindly — although not to do so is abhor- 
rent to the Ibo mind and very seldom indeed is the 
mother neglected or treated disrespectfully — but the son 
never forgets his mother. Invariably she is the first in his 
affections, and she is his confidante in all the serious affairs 
of his life. In times of danger the mother is thought of 
before even wife and children. Wives are always to be 
had ; he cannot get a second mother ! 

From the age of about three years, the Ibo child is 
reckoned as sufficiently advanced to be left more or less 
to its own devices. It begins to consort freely with children 
of its own age or company (otu) and to take its share in 
work and play. Boys and girls soon separate, each sex 
being intent on its own games and occupations, the one 
quite independently of the other. The lot of the boys is 
preferable to that of the girls. Pleasure and enjoyment are 
the special prerogatives of the former as befits the future 
lords and masters. It is sufficient for the girls that they 
minister to their male relations : that and the bearing of 
children are the sole reasons for which they are created. 

The open street (ilo) is the children's playground, a 
spot well suited for the purpose, as it is generally covered 
with fine sand several inches in depth. Huge trees afford 
abundant shelter from the sun, and the absence of all but 
pedestrian traffic secures for the little ones playgrounds 
where they can pursue their pastimes in perfect safety and 
enjoyment. It is a charming sight to watch the children 
playing in the sand amidst the sunny glades. Clothing 
is superfluous and, therefore, conspicuous by its absence ; 
the children being thus quite unhampered in their move- 
ments, and free from all anxiety as to the ripping of gar- 

At an early age the boys engage in regular exercises, of 
which there are many forms. They obtain little bows 
and arrows, and they exercise their skill on small birds 
and the multi-coloured lizards which dart about in all 
directions. A common form of sport is that of turning 
somersaults, both by means of a primitive spring-board 
and without artificial assistance. The spring-board, 
though simple, is very effective in operation. It consists 


of the butt end of a large palm frond fixed firmly in the 
ground, at a slight backward angle. The lad takes a short, 
swift run, and brings one foot down sharply on the tip of 
the palm stem, and this, being very elastic, shoots the 
boy into the air, and he lands on his feet some distance 
away, having turned a complete somersault en route. 
It is quite fascinating to watch a string of lads following 
one another in rapid succession. Many become very ex- 
pert at the game and after a time dispense with the spring- 
board altogether. Small boys soon begin to imitate their 
elder brothers in wrestling and dancing. The result of 
all this physical outdoor exercise is that the muscles are 
well developed and the lads become strong and wiry. 

In the season, boys accompany their elders to the farms, 
and get an insight into the business of raising produce, 
the amount of work actually done by them varying 
according to the disposition and circumstances of the 
parents. They are also called upon to help in building 
operations, the task usually allotted them being to carry 
the lumps of puddled clay from the pit to the builders. 
They become useful whilst still extraordinarily young, 
assimilating a wonderful stock of practical knowledge. 
They become familiar with certain aspects of bird, animal 
and plant life, but cannot be characterised as observant 
of things unconnected with their own personal affairs. 

The women and girls are not so free, though they enjoy 
themselves well enough in their own way. Almost as soon 
as they can walk girls take a share in the household duties. 
They begin by carrying water, collecting firewood, rubbing 
floors, assisting in the preparation of food, and then, 
later on, accompanying their elders to the markets where 
they are initiated into the technicalities of trade. 

It must not be assumed that the life of a small girl is 
an unhappy one. It is true that girls early develop a 
measure of stolid independence, or rather the responsi- 
bilities of daily life are taken up seriously at a very early 
age, but they have their amusements and pastimes, and 
are quite capable of enjoying themselves. They are 
especially fond of a certain form of step- dancing. The 
partners face each other, beat time by clapping their 


hands, and the one must anticipate the movements of the 
other and be ready to respond. Failure to meet the correct 
movement is hailed with shouts and laughter by the as- 
sembled company, and a new partner comes in to try her 

In the native home-life there is nothing of the nature of 
discipline. The children do exactly as they choose and 
are only punished when they have been exceptionally 
aggravating. This laxity does not improve their morals, 
and there are incidents of child life which are sad to con- 
template. But little attempt is made to check the children, 
and it is quite a new experience for them to come under 
school discipline, and there, in another atmosphere, to 
learn to bring their natural impulses under control. 



Marriage is a most important event in the Ibo's life. 
From the time that boys and girls are capable of thinking 
for themselves, marriage is set before them as the one object 
to be attained. During the earlier years it does not assume 
a serious aspect, but question any boy or girl, and the 
answer is certain to be that, in due course, they must 
marry. Celibacy is an impossible prospect. Unmarried 
persons of either sex, except in special cases, are objects 
of derision, and to be childless is the greatest calamity that 
can befall a woman. Hence a very high value is set upon 

Courtship, as such, does not exist. The word " love " 
is not even found in the Ibo language. The nearest 
approach to the idea is " ifu nanya," i.e. " to look in the 
eye " in a favourable manner. The verb " to hate " is 
constantly in use, and there is an expression cv to look in 
the eye " which implies the reverse of love. I had a very 
practical demonstration of this some years ago when tra- 
velling through a strange town. I believe it was the first 
appearance of a white man in that particular spot, and for 
a few minutes there seemed to be imminent danger of un- 
pleasant experiences. Our party consisted of four, three 
natives and myself, and as we pursued our way along 
a tortuous bush track, we suddenly rounded a corner 
and found ourselves on the edge of a large open square. 
The hubbub indicated that we had wandered into a market, 
but before we had opportunity to take note of our sur- 
roundings, an excited crowd of men, bristling with spears 
and guns, hustled us apart and hampered our movements 
and observations. Eventually I managed to cross the 


market and later rejoined my companions. On putting 
the question, " Why did you leave me alone in the crowd ? " 
the answer was immediately forthcoming, " Because the 
men — they look us." It was a most telling illustration 
of the text, " And Saul eyed David from that day forward." 

Love, then, usually has no part to play in native court- 
ship. Later a substitute for love may develop consisting 
of a certain amount of affection or favour bestowed by 
the husband upon his wife. After marriage the woman 
is ranked with the other property of the husband with a 
proportionate value attached, but little greater than that 
of the cows and goats. Ordinarily the betrothed girl 
raises no objection to the prospect of marriage, but occa- 
sionally one will refuse to follow the intended husband 
in spite of entreaty or applied persuasion. In such case 
any expenses incurred by the man must be refunded by 
the guardian of the girl. 

Parents of the richer class often select a wife (or wives) 
for a son whilst he is still quite a boy, irrespective of his 
wishes or inclinations ; he probably is not even told of the 
transaction until it is an accomplished fact, and the girl is 
presented to him as his wife. In the majority of cases 
the young man makes his own choice. He happens to 
meet a girl who attracts his attention, and he immediately 
institutes inquiries as to her parents, and whether she be 
already engaged or not. If she is free he endeavours to 
elicit, through her friends, information concerning her 
capabilities in cooking, trading and other useful and pro- 
fitable accomplishments. He also enquires about her 
character, whether she be of good temper, quiet, indus- 
trious and so forth. Should these investigations prove 
satisfactory, he lays his case before his parents or his 
confidential friend, for he cannot make the first ad- 
vances personally. This intermediary proceeds to open 
up negotiations. A visit is paid to the girl's home, and a 
bottle of gin or a pot of palm wine offered as " ojji " (kola). 
If the present be accepted, friendly relations are established, 
but no mention whatever must be made of the contem- 
plated marriage. Several similar visits will ensue and 
more presents be offered to all who can claim any sort of 


kinship to the girl. Finally the real business is broached to 
the intense surprise of the girl's relatives ! " She is very 
happy where she is, and we should be miserable without 
her. She is so intelligent, and so useful, we cannot spare 
her ! " When, at last, these preliminaries are over, the 
girl is called in, and asked if she has any objection to the 
proposal, and then, after a long palaver, the amount to be 
paid as dowry x (head-money) is fixed. In the old days 
the price was reckoned in cows, goats and cowries. This 
dowry money is a specified amount : any presents given 
are additional, and quite irrespective of the dowry. Now- 
adays the price is sometimes stated in English cash terms. 
It varies in value from £2 to £50 according to the township, 
social rank, age and personal qualities of the girl. Cows 
are reckoned at an all-round price of £5 apiece, and hence 
the sum named would be in the terms of cows (and goats, 
valued at say 10s. apiece). Only on very rare occasions 
is the whole of the dowry money paid down at once ; it 
is never done except there be some special reason. For 
one thing the girl has not reached a marriageable age, as 
a rule. The usual practice is to pay by instalments spread 
over months and even years, in fact, right up to the very 
day on which the man wishes to take his wife permanently 
to his own house. 

This taking of the bride permanently implies that she 
has paid, temporary visits to the man's home, and this is 
the actual case. From the moment that the first instal- 
ment of the dowry has been paid the girl is reckoned as the 
man's wife. There are no such intermediate words as 
" betrothal " or " engagement." As soon as matters can 
be arranged the custom of "uri" must be observed. This 
consists in the girl being sent to the parents of the affianced 
husband, when she is introduced to all his relatives. It is 
somewhat of an ordeal, as some of the man's kinsfolk do 
not hesitate to comment freely on the debutante into the 
family. Her general demeanour is subject to close obser- 
vation, and her domestic qualifications criticised. If the 

1 The term " dowry " is to be interpreted throughout in accordance 
with West African usage, viz. as money peid by the prospective husband 
for his wife, " Head-money " would be the more accurste term. 


girl be quite young when she is betrothed she will con- 
tinue to make annual visits to her prospective parents-in- 
law, staying with them for about one month at a time. In 
good homes she will be carefully guarded, but in a great 
many cases the girl, to all intents and purposes, becomes 
actually the wife of the man to whom she is betrothed, 
during the period she is residing with his parents. Amongst 
young people, morals are not very rigid, the only real 
stipulation being that a girl must have no intimate re- 
lations with any other man prior to the first visit to her 
intended husband. After that is over, she is more or less 
free to select her own friends, and invariably does so. 
Should a child be born in the waiting time before actual 
marriage, it is the property of her betrothed husband. 

In due course the marriage takes place. The man 
himself may inform the girl's guardians that he is ready 
to pay the balance of the dowry money, or, as often 
happens, the guardians give pointed hints that, as the 
girl is now fully grown (in their estimation) it is time for 
the bridegroom to fulfil the marriage contract. On the 
appointed day a feast is prepared — copious supplies of 
gin or palm wine forming an essential feature — at the 
expense of the bridegroom. In the presence of the relatives 
and others chiefly concerned, the final instalment of the 
dowry money is handed over ; this transaction constitutes 
the marriage, and the pair are declared man and wife. 
The bride receives presents from her relatives consisting 
of cooking utensils and, in better class circles, perhaps a 
couple of goats and some fowls as a contribution towards 
the working capital of a married woman. A rich father 
will also make his daughter a grant of one or two slaves 
to act as her personal attendants. At the conclusion of the 
marriage feast the bride may accompany her husband 
to his house, but it is more usual for her to be led by some 
of her girl friends to his home after darkness has fallen. 
In some parts there are no marriage ceremonies, but the 
girl simply joins the man at his house as soon as the first 
instalment of the dowry is paid, and they are acknowledged 
as man and wife. The great festivities are deferred until 
the birth of the first child. 


These are the broad outlines of courtship and marriage 
as they exist. 

Although so much is done by the parents or guardians, 
there are many little dodges on the part of the young 
folk which save the courtship from being an utterly cold- 
blooded business transaction. The village belles are not 
unversed in the arts of coquetry. They take particular 
pains to attract the attention of eligible young men, and 
do not hesitate to advertise their personal charms. 
Cleverly drawn freehand designs are traced over the body 
from head to foot, and extra care is exercised in the 
plaiting and adornment of the hair. On gala days every 
available ornament is brought into requisition ; strings of 
beads of a particular kind worn round the neck and waist, 
bracelets of ivory or cowrie shells and leg ornaments. 
These last are mostly of two patterns ; they are either 
simple rings of graduated sizes, or immense and heavy 
plate-like brass anklets. The girls revel in dancing and 
seize every opportunity of displaying their charms. 

The young men are equally Vain, rather more so in fact. 
They array themselves after their fashion, and, like the 
girls, their main object is to display their fine points of 
physical development. Their only garment is an awga- 
daw, a strip of cloth dyed red with camwood stain, and 
tightly rolled, and worn as a very meagre loin cloth in a 
style peculiar to the Ikolopia, i.e. " young bloods." Just 
below the knees, and on the biceps, are choice circlets 
of ivory. The hair is plaited in tails, and in some dis- 
tricts this plaiting of the hair has a recognised signifi- 

The Ibo registers no account of years and none can state 
his age. In lieu of a birth certificate, they refer to their otu 
(company). This indicates that this one, and that one and 
others were all born the same year. If inquiry be made as 
to the age of anyone, all the answer given is that he or 
she is a member of such and such a company. When it is 
remembered that Ibo women bear children at fairly regular 
intervals of three years there is a certain amount of re- 
liability about this otu system. On the other hand, it 
means that all girls in any particular company, being about 

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the same age, are reckoned as fit for marriage at the same 
time, whereas it does not at all follow that all have attained 
to an equally advanced stage of development. It can be 
assumed that under normal conditions girls are married 
when about fourteen years old, the first signs of puberty 
fixing the minimum age. In the districts with which I am 
most familiar, all the girls of marriageable age go into 
" nkpu " together. This is a peculiar custom, the object of 
which is to announce the fact that these girls will be entering 
the marriage state during the ensuing year. Considerable 
preparations must be made for the proper observance 
of this ceremony. Six months prior to the formal entrance 
into the nkpu state, the girls take up their quarters in 
separate apartments. They must not venture out into 
the open during daylight, though they do not hesitate 
to wander forth after dark ! They do no work whatever 
during this period, and are provided with more food than 
they can possibly eat. The only occupation they have at 
this time is the preparation of camwood dye wherewith to 
stain their bodies. Poorer girls have to reduce the time 
for this fattening process to four months, as they cannot 
be spared so long from work, nor can the parents afford the 
unlimited supplies of food for the full period. Some of 
the girls grow grossly fat and heavy, and all exhibit signs 
of over-feeding, but when on parade they receive honour 
in proportion to their size, and the fatter they are the more 
pleased and proud are their future husbands. 

The final festivities are spread over some seven days. 
The less fortunate girls must content themselves with 
little more than an extra plaiting of the hair and a plentiful 
use of camwood stain ; those in more affluent circumstances 
are able to make a grander display. They wear no clothes 
whatever. Their bodies are smeared all over with ver- 
milion red and they are decorated with ropes of tightly- 
twisted cloth or threaded cowrie shells. One or more tiny 
brass bells are fastened to the cloth or cowrie-shell waist- 
band. Rings of brass adorn the legs, graduated in size 
from the ankles to just above the knees. The coiffure is a 
very elaborate affair and requires unlimited patience and 
skill to arrange in the correct style. In the centre the hair is 


worked up with a mixture of clay, powdered charcoal and 
palm-oil until it becomes a sticky mass. It is then moulded 
into a shape resembling the central crest of a Roman 
helmet. The centre comes well over the middle of the 
forehead, and it extends backwards into the nape of the 
neck. Below the main erection and on either side delicate 
patterns are traced with tiny plaits of hair curled into 
small coils and then plastered down flatly to the head. 
Finally the high centre has its sides embellished with 
mother of pearl or bits of brass : the pieces (about the 
size of shillings) being sewn in with hair. The tufted end 
of a cow's tail mounted on a leather handle is carried, 
together with one or two small mirrors, set in handled 
frames, carved specially for the purpose. 

The nkpu girls are attended all through the round of 
festivities by maids of honour, and these also are smeared 
red with camwood dye, the fashion being to use as much 
paint as possible, from the crown of the head to the feet. 
In cases where the girl's parents can afford it or where the 
affianced husband is a man of means, a goat is slain as a 
preliminary on the first day of the carnival. To advertise 
this mark of affluence the kidney fat of the goat is laid on 
the head of the prospective bride and fastened securely 
thereon with finely drawn strands of fibre. The mass of 
fat is spread completely over the high central decorated 
portion of the hair, and there it remains until the cere- 
monies are concluded, it having in the intervening days 
become putrid and disgustingly filthy. 

When the bride-elect has finished her elaborate toilet 
she sallies forth and joins company with other girls observ- 
ing the nkpu custom, and together they parade the town 
with their maids of honour in attendance. These latter 
carry large fans wherewith to refresh their ladies after the 
bouts of dancing in which they indulge. Dancing amongst 
the Ibos is apt to be a very exhausting business, and the 
nkpu girl does not spare herself in her efforts to win the 
plaudits of the spectators. If she succeeds in pleasing 
them, the basket or calabash placed at her feet for the 
purpose receives a contribution of cowries from the by- 
standers as a token of their approval. These are useful, 


and are also an expression of the crowds good wishes for 
her married life. 

There is another custom to which the bride-elect must 
submit before the actual marriage can be consummated, 
viz. cicatrization. This consists of very rough tattooing 
over the front part of the body, generally in the form of a 
cross, made with triple lines of mbubu or ebubu (small 
raised lumps or blobs). The presence of such cicatrices in- 
dicates that a woman is already married or preparing to 
enter that state. For conception to occur before this 
ceremony has been fulfilled is an abomination, but it does 
not prevent it happening all the same, and it often falls 
out that the girl is hardly through the nkpu celebrations 
before she becomes a mother. 

At some time just prior to marriage the bride-elect must 
appear before one or more women, specially appointed, 
whose function it is to instruct her, and impress upon her 
the rules governing marriage and the married life of a 
woman, according to the etiquette of the town. It will 
be made clear to her what things are permissible and what 
are "nsaw" (forbidden) and she is enjoined to observe 
these regulations strictly. 

As soon as the marriage is completed, and the bride has 
come to her husband's house, custom compels her to 
confess the misdeeds of which she has been guilty since 
the days of her betrothal. She is bound to divulge the name 
of any and every man with whom she has been on terms 
of intimacy. This confession is first made to the umu- 
ada, i.e. the female relatives of the husband. The con- 
fession takes place before the idol awfaw, an idol which is 
kept in the house of the head of the whole family. The 
woman, holding a fowl in her hand, makes her confession 
before the idol, and then the fowl is killed, and its blood 
poured upon the awfaw in expiation of her misdemeanours. 
The husband is satisfied with her confession and sacrifice. 
He then calls the men who have been named as accom- 
plices in order that reconciliation may be made between 
himself and them. This is accomplished by the offenders 
offering the prescribed sacrifices and paying fines, if any 
should be assessed. Finally all eat kola nut, and drink 


palm wine together to signify that the reconciliation is 

If, in due course, no children are forthcoming as a result 
of the union, serious differences arise between husband and 
wife, each mutually accusing the other of being responsible 
for this state of affairs. Should matters continue so, the 
wife is at liberty to cohabit with another man in order, 
if possible, to secure the desired result. Should any children 
be born in this way, they are recognised as the property 
of the husband, just as if he were the actual father. 

There are a few instances where young people do not 
marry. On the western side of the river the kings were 
wont to employ eunuchs in their establishments, and as 
many of those were appointed as were deemed sufficient 
to supervise the wives in the household. 

Again on the western side of the Niger, and in some 
parts of the eastern side, one or more daughters are re- 
tained at home for life. These are kept at home solely 
for the entertainment of guests. At lb wo, for instance, 
where there is a family of five children or more, if the last 
be a daughter she is devoted to the house. Her face is 
tatooed with peculiar "ichi" marks and she is not allowed 
to marry, nor to reside anywhere but at her father's house. 
Children born from the various liaisons between her and 
her father's guests become part of her father's household. 

Cognate with courtship and marriage is divorce. This 
is not a complicated business and depends very largely 
upon the mere whim of the man. A woman cannot divorce 
her husband ; she is his property, duly paid for, and she 
cannot take action against her lord and master any more 
than one of his cows or goats. 1 Being, however, a creature 
endowed with human susceptibilities a woman with a 
little more spirit than usual may object to the condition of 
affairs under her husband's rule. Failing to obtain redress 
of her grievances, she returns home to her people. Should 

1 The custom varies somewhat in different parts of the Ibo country. 
In the Southern Districts a woman is considered to have fulfilled all 
obligations, pecuniary and otherwise, as soon as there are two of her 
children running about the house. If the husband gives her cause for 
complaint he is liable to lose her ; she is at liberty to forsake him and go 
to another man, in which case the original husband has no means of redress. 


the husband desire it he can demand her back from the 
relatives, and she will be forced to return. The feelings of 
the woman are not consulted ; she has no rights to be 
respected, and if she acts contrary to the law of the land 
she must bear the consequences. The husband, however, 
may not desire to see her again, in which case the whole 
of the dowry money paid for her, plus any other expenses 
incurred, must be refunded on demand. As this has already 
been spent by the woman's relatives they manifest great 
reluctance in collecting the sum and, therefore, a woman 
who ventures to return to her relatives is liable to receive 
but scant sympathy from them. She is accounted a 
nuisance, and they will do their utmost to persuade her 
to return to her husband, and will, failing to attain their 
object by persuasion, not hesitate to resort to forcible 

Should the husband be the aggrieved party he orders 
her to leave the house, or promptly drives her out, at the 
same time throwing her cooking pot and one or two other 
personal articles after her. This procedure constitutes 
permanent divorce, and the action of the husband will be 
upheld by native law. The wife, so treated, is deprived 
of all property and also of her children ; indeed neither 
ever were hers. Her only possessions are her cooking pot, 
market basket, and a few other small articles pertaining 
to the domestic side of the house. She may go where she 
likes, and live as she pleases ; the husband ceases to take 
any interest in her or her affairs from that day forth, with 
one exception, viz. that should another man express a 
willingness to marry her, the original husband immediately 
claims full dowry money for her. Although he has cast 
her out like an old garment, yet she remains still his pro- 
perty, and he never relinquishes the hope that sooner or 
later, he will be able to make a profitable deal out of her 



The controlling factor in the careers of both men and 
women is the state in which they are born. Everything 
turns on the point whether a man be bond, or free. To the 
free-born youth all things are possible, and all ranks of 
society are open to him. On the other hand the slave has 
no rights, and whatever success he may achieve in any 
department of life depends entirely on the goodwill of his 
master. In this chapter we shall confine ourselves to the 
ordinary life of a free-born youth. 

Freedom by birthright is a very valuable asset. Pri- 
vileges and favours ensue as a matter of course, and benefits 
accrue from the earliest days. Between boys and girls 
the comparison is all in favour of the former, the latter 
only counting as a useful accessory in the life of a man. 
From the outset a youth assumes the positions of a " lord 
of creation " as his rightful heritage. He quickly recognises 
the distinction which free-birth confers upon him, and 
though he fraternises freely at ordinary times with the 
slave-born, yet he never, for one moment, loses conscious- 
ness of an inherent superiority ; it is ineradicably in- 
grained in his very nature. The life of an Ibo lad is also 
greatly influenced by the locality in which he lives. His 
fellow-townsmen may follow an acknowledged profession, 
or they may be simple farmers, fishermen or traders. The 
men of Awka, for example, are renowned throughout the 
Ibo country, and even beyond its borders, as clever black- 
smiths, and they traverse the country from end to end 
plying their craft. These men make extended itinerations 
annually, a large number of towns being visited. Again 
the men of Nri are the priests whose presence is essential 
for a valid celebration of the ceremonial rites in connection 



with the coronation of kings, and they travel far and wide 
in the performance of these priestly functions. The men 
of Uniu-di-Awka journey from place to place practising 
the art of cicatrisation, they being recognised experts in 
the cutting of ichi or tribal marks. 

A lad brought up in such a town naturally adopts the 
profession of his fathers. He has abundant time for re- 
creation, as the native works only at such times as happen 
to be convenient to him, but the apprenticeship starts 
from the earliest years. As soon as ever possible the lad 
accompanies his elders on their journeys. Rarely is any 
reluctance manifested, for he knows well enough that if 
he is to secure any honourable position in life he must 
make money at all costs. In some places custom forbids 
even the wearing of a loincloth until he has entered the 
first degree of titular rank, and title-taking is expensive. 
Rich fathers usually provide the wherewithal to meet the 
cost of the lower titles, as much for the sake of their own 
dignity as for the benefit of the boys, but, as a rule, the 
youth must win his own position. 

Where the men practise a useful trade — as at Awka — 
the majority find no great difficulty in raising the necessary 
funds to enable them to pass through the lower degrees of 
titular rank; but where farming or fishing are the pre- 
vailing occupations, but few secure the much coveted 
honours. As a matter of fact in a great many cases the 
methods adopted to collect money for the purchase of 
titles will not bear scrutiny. 

Play and work, then, go together from the earliest days, 
the former predominating except at particular seasons. 
Up to the age of ten or twelve the boys run about in 
nature's garb, and are only distinguished from the other 
young animals in the compound by the fact that they are 
human. Given good health, the Ibo boy has a thoroughly 
happy time. Whilst enduring the infliction of yaws or 
kraw-kraw, he has rather a miserable experience, it is 
true, but having survived that stage, he allows very little 
to trouble him. These loathsome diseases, yaws and 
kraw-kraw, are deliberately induced in children by inocu- 
lation in their early years, as the natives believe no person 


can escape them, and that the suffering to be endured is 
much less in childhood than in adult life, hence the practice 
of inoculation. Boys associate freely with their elders, 
but for games they consort with their own company (otu). 
Their chums are always boys, and the friendships formed 
in boyhood's days continue throughout life. Young men 
do not drop each other after marriage ; the wife never 
displaces her familiar friend. The man still turns to his 
old companion for counsel and as the one to whom he can 
confide the thoughts of his heart. 

The only woman a man really trusts with his deeper 
confidences is his mother. No man with his wits about 
him would so compromise his dignity as to put himself 
in the power of a wife ! How, too, can a woman be ex- 
pected to enter into the ideas, pursuits, and affairs of 
men ? Consequently it would be pure waste of effort, as 
well as folly, to discuss serious matters with womenfolk. 
It follows, then, that the lives of Ibo men, generally speak- 
ing, run on lines quite distinct from those of the women. 

Increase of stature, the handling of tools and imple- 
ments, and knowledge of the ways of men advance simul- 
taneously. The school is the world in which the boys 
live day by day. By the time a youth is from twelve to 
fifteen years of age he has become expert in the occupations 
practised by his elders, and he can take a full share in any 
work he is called upon to do. He knows how to build, to 
use the hoe and the matchet, and generally to take his place 
as a useful member of the family and the community. 

The majority of Ibo men are accustomed to work at 
intervals only, i.e. when necessity compels. The dry 
season is devoted almost entirely to leisurely pursuits. 
Towards its close a few casual visits are paid to the neigh- 
bouring jungle to collect supplies of ripe grass for thatch- 
repairing. Immediately after the grass harvest, the bush 
is fired and burned without discrimination, especially 
in such parts as are selected for cultivation. For some 
four months these are the only attempts at anything in 
the nature of real work by the men. The youths amuse 
themselves in various ways ; the young men (Ikolobia) 
engage in archery contests, wrestling and other forms of 


sport. The old men gossip and play okwe, this leisurely 
life being enlivened at fairly frequent intervals by feastings 
or drinking bouts. 

This sort of life is apt to become insipid to the young 
bloods, nor does it bring pecuniary benefit to them. There- 
fore recourse is had to fighting as an outlet for their 
energies. This provides action and excitement, possibly 
the materials for a feast, and pecuniary benefits in the form 
of loot. The business is easily and quickly arranged. 
Young braves lie in wait for stragglers from a neighbouring 
town, kill or capture one or two, and thereby start a feud. 
Throughout the remainder of the dry season raiding will 
be the sport in fashion, each side generally getting about 
equal profit from the contest. Much less damage is in- 
flicted than the noise and excitement would lead one to 
expect. If the combatants have not satiated themselves, 
or come to terms by the end of the dry season, hostilities 
are postponed. With the approach of the rains, a truce 
is declared, both parties recognising the obligation to 
attend seriously to farming. To neglect this work involves 
the hardships of famine, which none of the combatants 
has either the desire or intention to endure. 

The first tornado of the season is the signal for great 
activity for all, young and old, men and women. For a 
short period all work with intense zeal and energy on the 
farms, beginning at daylight and plodding on without rest 
until noon. A month of steady work brings the farm into 
good order, and the majority of the men-folk do not suffer 
from over-exertion during the next five or six months. 
A few work on the farms, putting in sticks for the yam 
vines, and later in uncurling the vines and training them 
to climb the sticks properly ; also in earthing up the roots ; 
but the women-folk are expected to do the greater part of 
the weeding and other necessary tasks whilst the crops 
are maturing. At harvest time the men go forth to gather 
in the crops and carry the yams home to be stored. When 
the operations in the fields are at an end and the yams and 
corn safely harvested, a regular time of feasting follows, 
commencing with the " iwa-ji " (new yam feast). Between- 
whiles the men are engaged in tying the yams, one by one, 


to open upright frames in such a way that wind and sun 
may have free access to them. Yams rot very rapidly if 
left lying on the ground. The yam-stack stands in a 
secluded part of the compound, and is penned off with a 
stout fence and the entrance padlocked, and no one may 
enter but the owner. He, himself, usually deals out the 
daily supplies for the household, and woe to anyone found 
loitering in close proximity to an awbwa, or caught in the 
act of robbing it. 

Should building operations be contemplated, the clay 
for the walls must be excavated and puddled during the 
time of the rains. In many parts of the country clay 
cannot be puddled at any other time, as water for such 
purposes is not available. In the dry season, mud-treading, 
as it is commonly called, is entirely the work of men ; it is 
never delegated to women. 

A lad shares the house accommodation with the other 
children of the family until the age of puberty. At this 
stage in his life he is allotted separate quarters which his 
father may provide, but which he more likely has to build 
for himself. It is a tiny bachelor apartment, where he 
sleeps, stores his treasures, and receives his special friends. 
When a man marries he usually starts a compound on his 
own account. To a certain extent he settles down in life, 
and if of an easy-going disposition seldom worries deeply 
about anything; but if he be of an ambitious turn of 
mind, he will apply his energies to secure a position of 
rank and power. He will begin by the multiplication of 
wives, or by taking up more advanced titles. Both are 
expensive affairs, but they are also investments. The 
initial outlay in procuring an additional wife is recovered 
by increased profits from trading, and, as a duly qualified 
member of the society which confers a specified title for 
cash, he receives his share of the entrance fees paid by all 
new members — a dividend that never decreases. A favour- 
able beginning having been made the man steadily pursues 
his course and endeavours to obtain the remaining higher 
degrees of titular rank. The system of native " titles " is 
worthy of special study, and is dealt with at greater length 
in a later chapter (XXIV). Every free-born youth on 


arrival at full age (puberty) becomes a recognised citizen 
and is bound to bear his share in all that pertains to the 
welfare of his town in times of peace and war. He must 
contribute to the public feasts and pay taxes levied for 
religious, social or other purposes. He must give his 
services in times of special need, and also subscribe his 
allotted share towards the maintenance of the dignity of 
the paramount chief, as well as serving the head of his own 
family. This service may be rendered in money, as when 
the chief is desirous of proceeding to a higher title or is 
erecting a new house. He will also co-operate in building 
schemes and in farm-work — all such service of course being 
given gratuitously. Ordinarily a son is at his father's 
disposal one day per week, i.e. every fourth day. 

The professional men, as already noted, travel exten- 
sively during the greater part of the year. When they 
return with their gains, a regular round of title-taking 
and feasting ensues. Enormous quantities of palm wine 
and, where procurable, gin are consumed, very often both. 
The amount these men are able to drink is prodigious. 
Equally astonishing is the rapidity with which the 
liquor disappears. The one who cannot drink his four to 
six consecutive bumpers of palm wine, or a measure of 
neat gin at one draught, is regarded as unworthy to mix 
with men ; he is still in the apprentice stage. I have been 
present at assemblies and have watched the men range 
themselves around the pots and demijohns of wine. There 
is no talking or sound of revelry at this stage. For the 
most part they sit in silence, all eyes turned towards the pots, 
the whole proceeding apparently being a serious business 
needing concentration and endurance, and it is a gross 
breach of etiquette for any member to depart or shirk his 
turn until every vessel is drained. One of the party acts 
as potman, and the cup, horn or calabash is passed to each 
in turn in order of seniority, and round and round the 
cup travels until the whole supply is consumed. They 
scarcely seem to drink ; the liquid simply disappears as 
though poured through a funnel. I allude here to fresh 
palm wine or, at any rate, such as is not more than twenty- 
four hours old. When allowed to ferment, it is too bitter 


to be a popular drink, and though seldom refused, it is 
not taken with great relish, and the consumption is limited 
to very small quantities as compared with the fresh wine. 
Where gin is the standard drink, regular drinking clubs 
are sometimes formed. It is not an uncommon practice 
for men to chew raw pepper in order to harden the palate, 
and thus enable them to endure the burning sensation of 
neat spirit without undue inconvenience. Gin-drinking is 
naturally much more prevalent in the coast districts and 
in the river-side towns lying between the sea and the pro- 
hibited area line than in the upper Ibo and back bush 
districts, where the people rely chiefly on palm wine ; but 
they all prefer gin whenever it can be procured. (Cf. 
Chap. II). 

The men, young and old, are quite as fond of bodily 
adornment and display as the women; in fact, they out- 
rival the women in vanity and conceit. The young men 
are partial to circlets of ivory worn just below the knees, 
while the old and rich men carry a whole series of them 
on the arms. On the western side of the Niger, chiefs 
often wear huge ivory anklets also. Necklaces of elephants' 
" eye-brows " (really whiskers or tail hairs), corals and 
one or more aggry beads threaded on a string are always 
fashionable. The garments donned on a gala day baffle 
description ; they are many and various, often ludicrous 
and always incongruous. 

For the Ibo man the necessities of life are very few. 
After securing his hut he has need only to make sure of 
his implements for tilling the soil, fishing, or for practising 
his trade. He values any article that will serve as a gar- 
ment or that can be made to hang on the body somehow. 
He also regards the possession of a few fowls and a goat 
or two as essential to the completion of a household, and, 
if he be a man of rank, some cows. A gun is his greatest 
treasure, however, and the Ibo will do anything to procure 
one. The multiplication of wives and an abundance of 
children are visions which every young man sees and 
hopes to realise in due course. In addition to money, in 
the form of cowries, brass rods or English cash, all sorts of 
articles are objects of value, e.g. odd pieces of rusty chains, 


empty (and dirty) old demijohns and old iron cannons, 
the last being in great demand for second burial ceremonies. 
In the house of one old chief of my acquaintance there is a 
miscellaneous collection of old iron, the supreme place being 
given to the stump end of an old bedstead which is now 
scarcely more than a pattern in rust. Toby- jugs of more 
or less ancient date, monkey-bottles, earthenware soup- 
plates, dishes and ornaments are all held in high esteem, 
and in past days were very expensive objects of art because 
of the long distances they had to be carried and the con- 
tinuous risk of loss by breakage and theft. 

The eldest son succeeds absolutely to all property of his 
father. He takes over all the household effects, also his 
father's wives, and, with the exception of his own mother, 
he treats them as his own wives. He may keep them all, 
or he may dispose of some to other men for the sake of the 
dowry money. If the women are old, however, they settle 
down quietly to their own devices in the compound, and 
are not often disturbed by the new head of the household. 

But he not only inherits his father's property ; with it 
he inherits his father's liabilities and also any which may 
have been handed down from his grandfather. The 
settling of ancient debts — perhaps three generations old — 
is a very intricate business, and a young man may find 
himself in an undesirable, and even critical position, owing 
to his being suddenly confronted with a debt contracted 
years before by his grandfather, the repayment of which 
has not become easier by lapse of time — the money-lender 
sees to that. 

Under the old conditions of affairs, i.e. before civilian 
influences made themselves felt, old men were treated with 
great respect, and the chiefs were held in the highest 
honour and were accorded implicit obedience. Any io- 
fringement of the rules of etiquette towards them met with 
severe reprisals. At the same time fathers exercise very 
slight control over their sons, and discipline is utter ly 
lacking. For a father to chastise his son, is quite unusual ; 
most fathers would not entertain such a proposal. They 
will not punish even in cases where their offspring 
thoroughly deserve a sound thrashing. One has known 


instances where boys have been terrors to the household 
and still the parents would not take a strong line to bring 
the young rascals to order. The explanation is that the 
father stands in mortal dread lest he should incur the 
lasting displeasure of his son — especially of the eldest one — 
for on his son depends his own salvation. If his son hates 
him how is he to be given an honourable and worthy 
burial ? With what marks of distinction will he enter the 
" Land of Spirits " if his son remain at enmity with him ? 
This being the case, the father endures the misdemeanours 
of his son rather than risk incurring that son's displeasure, 
and thereby putting in jeopardy his status in the future 

Mention has already been made (Chap. V.) of the great 
mortality amongst children. The law of the survival of 
the fittest continues to operate in later years, and the 
susceptibility to fall out of the ranks is very marked 
amongst the youth of the country. It is extraordinary 
how the young people die off, pneumonia and dysentery 
being responsible for great numbers of deaths. Those who 
do survive are blessed with sound constitutions and there 
are many very aged people amongst the Ibos. 

During the progress of special functions one watches the 
ancient cronies with mixed feelings. They attempt to 
dance and show off their paces as if they were still lusty 
young athletes, in spite of their uncertain gait and tottering 
steps. Old men who normally do little but eat, sleep and 
gossip, on these public occasions prance about, flourish 
their spear-headed staves, strike them viciously into the 
ground, and assume the fiercest of expressions, and will 
exert every ounce of their well-nigh spent force in order 
to demonstrate that they are still worthy of their place. 
Their object is to insist on the spectators recognising the 
fact. The display would be sublimely ridiculous were it 
not so woefully pathetic. Then comes the end. At last 
the old man is quite played out and he simply dodders 
along until the spark of life departs. He has lived his life, 
perhaps on the whole a peaceful one, but not lacking in 
exciting episodes, and certainly without the restraints 
and worries that civilization inevitably entails. He has 


probably never experienced the pressure of circumstances. 
Every aged veteran can relate his stories of the brave days 
of old and his tales of high adventure. It is doubtful if 
one could be found whose hands have not been steeped in 
blood. In his day he has lived fast and loose ; probably 
he has been slaver and cannibal, and now he resigns him- 
self to the inevitable and waits patiently the hour to join 
his old comrades in the spirit world. His last solemn 
wish is that the funeral rites shall be on such a scale that 
he may be spared all feelings of shame when he meets his 
former companions. He desires to have such marks of 
honour paid him at his death as will be equivalent to those 
he has enjoyed in life. 



As in the case of men, the question whether they be free- 
born or not largely determines the position occupied 
throughout life by Ibo women. It concerns them chiefly 
in the matter of marriage, inasmuch as, in most parts, a 
free-born youth will, on no account, take a slave woman to 
wife, although it is not unknown for a man to redeem a slave 
in order to marry her. A woman in a state of slavery, 
whether by birth, capture, or purchase, is in a very unen- 
viable position. In this chapter we shall touch upon the 
lives of free-born women only. Bond and free have one 
characteristic in common, viz. they are the burden-bearers 
of the country. Women have but few rights in any circum- 
stances, and can only hold such property as their lords 
permit. There is no grumbling against their lot ; they 
accept the situation as their grandmothers did before them 
and, taking affairs philosophically, they manage to live 
fairly contentedly. 

Passing from the infant stage, girls immediately enter 
upon a life of service, and are allowed such a share in femi- 
nine affairs as their size and strength allow. They are little 
more than babies themselves when they are given the care 
of the younger children. From the age of four they begin 
to acquire the art of balancing articles on the head. Carry- 
ing a tiny waterpot they accompany the elder girls to the 
spring. By the time they are nine or ten they are regularly 
employed in fetching supplies of water. They take part 
daily in such duties as the sweeping of the compound, 
the rubbing of the house, the collecting of firewood, and 
the preparation of food. 

Soon after daylight the womenfolk leave the house in 


Three Stages of Girlhood 

The graduated brass spirals on the legs are very heavy, and bandages are wrapped round 
the ankles to prevent chafing. 


order to bring in the morning supply of water. This may 
occupy anything up to two hours or even more, according 
to the distance they have to travel, the supply sometimes 
being a long way from the village. 

They next proceed to clean up the house and compound. 
The floors and walls of the huts are composed of reddish 
clay beaten hard. By persistent rubbing a polished surface 
is obtained, the process also acting as a preservative. 
The men build the walls ; the women finish them. Some 
rich coloured earth (upa) is taken from a pit and rubbed 
through the hands with a copious supply of water. A 
piece of rotten banana leaf is rolled into a pad and with it 
the liquid is freely applied to walls and floor, and the whole 
thoroughly well rubbed. If the wall be rather new or 
rough it will be worked down to an even surface with 
pieces of cocoanut shell, but once a smooth surface is 
secured it is only necessary to polish with clay water. 
Some of the houses are beautifully polished and are quite 
works of art. Women of artistic temperament take an 
immense amount of trouble and stain the walls with 
striking colours, washing in a variety of patterns with wide 
sweeping movements. Considerable ingenuity is shown, 
and no little skill, in manipulating the primitive pad in 
order to produce many of the coloured designs. Of course, 
these decorative schemes are not daily affairs ; they are 
reserved for days when there is plenty of time for the 
purpose. The daily morning rub covers only the floor of the 
house and any parts of the walls that may happen to be 

Domestic occupations being accomplished, the little 
girls are free to play and revel in the sand and sunshine 
for the greater part of the day. When they get tired they 
curl themselves up in a shady spot and go to sleep. On 
market days practically the whole female population move 
to the market-place, either to trade or to enjoy the general 
entertainment such gatherings afford. Ibo women cannot 
keep away from the native market any more than English 
women can be kept away from Regent Street. They are 
the most inveterate bargain hunters ; indeed, marketing, 
together with the preparation of food, constitutes the 


chief occupation — nay, the very life, of the women. They 
haggle over prices in a manner which suggest that the 
contest will be decided by blows. On all sides shrill strident 
voices are raised to the highest pitch, every word being 
emphasized with violent gestures. Goods are handled, 
examined, approved or condemned and sometimes thrown 
down again, to show contempt for the price demanded, 
and altogether the market appears to be a veritable pande- 
monium. No article of any value has a fixed price ; ex- 
changes are arranged only after long bouts of bargaining. 
Small perishable commodities are the only items that are 
cleared off without much fuss towards the close of the 

Practically the whole of the trade in the Ibo country is in 
the hands of the women, and they are extremely capable. 
The more expert a woman proves herself to be, the more is 
she appreciated by her husband. Ability in this direction 
is always a desideratum in a man's choice of a wife. The 
apprenticeship begins early as already noticed, viz. from 
childhood itself. On arrival at full age the girl is provided 
with her own basket, and she begins to trade more or less 
independently. In the domestic affairs of life it works out 
that the men-folk hold themselves responsible for the yam 
supply, whilst the women provide all the extras, fish, 
oil, peppers, and other luxuries ; they are the purveyors 
of the salt and savour of the men's lives ! 

Ibo women are but little concerned with dress, and in 
this respect they differ rather from the men. The reason 
is twofold. In the first place women's apparel is never 
found in any interior market and but very recently at 
places where there are trading factories. In the second 
place the men always put an embargo on feminine apparel, 
and, until recently, have deliberately barred the use of 
clothing. On the western side of the Niger the fashion is a 
small white loin-cloth and a sort of shawl thrown loosely 
round the shoulders, both woven by the women themselves 
from native-grown cotton. Sometimes the cloth is of 
sufficient size to cover the body from just beneath the 
armpits to the knees. On the eastern side it is the custom 
for girls to go entirely naked up to (and sometimes after) 


marriage. In places like Onitsha and Asaba the girls now 
refuse to comply with the injunctions against the use of 
dress, and, as the country is opened up, they will become 
obsolete altogether. In certain parts the women, old and 
young, rich and poor, married and single, pass their whole 
lives in a state of nudity. On reaching the age of puberty 
a piece of fine cotton string is worn loosely round the loins 
to indicate the fact, and this is later discarded for a more 
permanent circlet of spring-coiled brass wire (called 
awna-idide, i.e. brass worm). After marriage a shred of 
cloth is added and this completes the outfit. Later the 
awna-idide is exchanged for a string of black beads of 
a particular pattern called the " nkpulu-ife." This is 
never removed as long as the woman's husband is alive, 
except for purification purposes, and even this is not 

On the other hand ornaments are highly esteemed even 
when they are in the nature of inflictions, and the wearing 
of them entails actual suffering. Most towns have their 
own peculiar fashions in this respect. In the neighbour- 
hood of Nleggi no woman is happy till she is the proud 
possessor of a pair of enormous brass anklets (awbwa). 
These are beaten out of solid bar brass and then fixed round 
the leg by a blacksmith, and a smith is required to remove 
them. Once hammered on they are permanent evidences 
of deluded vanity, and from that hour the wearer can never 
again stand, sit or lie in a normal position. These plate- 
like ornaments may be anything from nine to fifteen inches 
in diameter. When walking one leg must be swung clear 
of the other in a semicircle, partly in order to swing the 
weight, and partly to prevent one foot tripping over the 
anklet of the other. It is a curious spectacle to watch a 
procession of women wearing these atrocious ornaments. 
The anklets are kept highly polished and flash brightly 
in the sun as the wearers move along with the extra- 
ordinary swinging gait entailed by the cumbersome brasses. 
In well-to-do families quite little girls are burdened with 
anklets of a size considered suitable for their age. In due 
time the smaller anklets are removed in favour of full-sized 
ones. The striking feature is the dexterous way the women 


clear their feet in walking ; they rarely clash the brasses one 
against the other. 

More widespread are the brass leg rings. For the com- 
plete outfit these are graduated in size from the anklet up- 
wards, the number of rings being dependent upon the size 
of the girl. Up to a certain age the rings must finish below 
the knee ; at full age they must extend above the knee. 
These spirals (nza) are made from the brass rods common 
in some districts as currency. The rods are welded to- 
gether and turned into spirals — each being slightly larger 
than the one below, the top one having a diameter of about 
nine inches. One set of nza that I examined contained 
thirty-five rods to each spiral and were many pounds in 
weight. These are worn prior to marriage — never after. 
Further, they are worn at certain seasons only and then but 
for short periods, the chief times being when the young 
lady is particularly desirous of exhibiting her graces ! She 
spends much time at the waterside scouring the brasses 
with leaves and sands. This is done daily as the brasses 
tarnish very rapidly in this climate. 

But the most valuable, and the most prized of all forms 
of ornaments, are the anklets and bracelets of ivory. 
These can only be worn by rich women or by such as are 
of high rank. They are simply sections of huge elephant 
tusks. The anklets are about nine inches in depth by from 
two to three inches in thickness ; the bracelets vary in 
size, some being large and clumsy. Once these are on the 
limbs (they are forced over feet or hands after a course of 
powerful massage with oil) they are not removed till 
death. Young women during their course in nkpu some- 
times wear ivory bracelets right up the arm, but this is 
quite a temporary arrangement. With the older women 
these ivories are priceless treasures, and they will endure 
any hardships in preference to degrading themselves by 
selling them, however great the inducement may be. 

In all cases the anklets are very heavy and it is aston- 
ishing that they can be endured at all. To prevent sores 
from chafing, old rags are bound round the ankles. 

There are other smaller ornaments, but all more or less 
alike. Copper bracelets and anklets are common, though 


worn by men more than women. Necklaces are always 
fashionable, the most usual being a single string on which 
one or more aggry beads are threaded, and necklaces 
composed of elephants' hairs or imitations thereof. Occa- 
sionally hair pins of burnished iron are worn, more especi- 
ally in communities of which the male members are black- 

The only possessions that can really be labelled as the 
property of a wife are her waterpot, market basket and 
calabash, together with her cooking utensils, and all the 
vegetable called koko (edde). She helps to purchase other 
household requisites and has free use of them ; she may also 
accumulate extra things in her own corner. On her death 
her eldest son, not her husband, will inherit these personal 
items. As long as both she and her husband live she must 
continue to provide her due proportion of food for him in 
conjunction with the other wives. Where husband and 
wife live happily together the former will, at intervals, 
present his wife with a piece of cloth as a mark of special 

A wife is granted a certain amount of private accommo- 
dation in the compound, usually to the extent of a hut for 
the use of herself and her children. At the same time her 
happiness and prosperity rest entirely on the goodwill of 
her husband. She fears her husbands gods, but may not 
touch or worship them. Her own objects of worship, as 
will be noted later, are of the most primitive character, 
consisting of little more than lumps of shapeless clay. 

The women take their full share in farm-work, assisting 
in turning the soil and moulding up the yam beds. After 
the yam seed has been set they hoe up the weeds and keep 
the farm in order. They tend their children, trade in the 
markets, prepare palm-oil, and manage all domestic affairs. 
Hence, in one way and another, the women find sufficient 
work to keep them well occupied, but it is very seldom that 
they show the slightest disposition to hurry over anything ; 
they take life very leisurely, and what is not done is 
quietly left undone. On the whole the women are cheery 
and bright but their lives run in a hopeless groove — the 
outcome of generations of monotonous routine. As 


children, no marked difference is noticeable between boys 
and girls as regards capacity for learning, but after the 
age of ten or eleven the girls are so much occupied with their 
daily tasks that they have little time or inclination for 
intellectual pursuits. Moreover, the rigid conservative 
habits of their relatives and friends are a strong restraining 
force against the adoption of new ideas. Unless a girl can 
read before she is twenty it is safe to assume that she will 
never learn at all. This will serve to illustrate the uni- 
formly low level of intellectual attainment with which 
Ibo women are satisfied. On the other hand they are 
endowed with a sense of humour and readily respond to a 
joke. The most striking fact perhaps about the women 
is that they are all so extraordinarily alike. They are in- 
tensely conservative in their habits and ideas, and to know 
one is to know all. Ibo women select their companions 
from their own sex, as do the men, but each has her own 
particular male friend, independently of her husband, with 
whom a more or less clandestine relationship is maintained. 
In all the ordinary affairs of life, however, women consort 
with women. When passing to and from market, or fetch- 
ing water, they go in companies, invariably walking in 
single file. This habit arises from the fact that it is con- 
sidered unsafe to travel alone, and also from the nature of 
the paths which are too narrow for two persons to walk 
abreast. The old custom still prevails even on the good 
trunk roads that are being constructed in the country. 
The women have their own clubs or societies. On one 
occasion I had the opportunity of watching a crowd of 
women making preparations for a meeting. The peculiar 
feature about it was the fact that they were dressed up as 
men ; they wore men's hats and, in some cases, coats ; the 
breasts were bound down close to the body by crossover 
straps and each member flourished a cutlass in her hand, 
and in every way they could they imitated men. In every 
town there is a sort of committee of women which controls 
all women's affairs and exercises great influence in various 
directions. The leader is chosen, and a ceremonial crown- 
ing is performed by a nri (priest), similar to the coronation 
rites observed in the making of a king. The woman 


chosen is known as the " awrau," a title equivalent to queen. 
She is never the wife of the king. One does not often see 
the crown nowadays ; instead a man's hat is worn ; no 
other woman may wear a hat. She is assisted by a limited 
number of members who take precedence according to 
age and rank, all of them having taken one or more titles. 
In the markets the awmu usually sits on a special stool, 
in a corner reserved specially for her, wearing her hat, and 
probably with chalk rings around her eyes. She receives 
queenly oblations and many tokens of respect in the way 
of small gifts (ojji). 

The committee further controls everything in the town 
relating to women. In judging cases where both men and 
women are involved the chiefs must call upon the members 
of the committee for their opinions and assistance. The 
committee makes its own laws for the women of the town 
irrespective of the men. The chief wife of a man attains 
automatically the rank corresponding to that of her hus- 
band. Every degree to which he advances is bestowed 
simultaneously upon his wife ; as he adds an additional 
title-cord around his ankle so the chief wife must add a 
similar cord around her ankle. Any neglect to observe 
this custom leads to friction, as the wife is then charged 
with failing to uphold the proper style and dignity of her 

Hairdressing is almost exclusively confined to women: 
and the results are much more elaborate than anything 
attempted by men. The fashion for prospective brides 
has been commented upon in Chap. VI, but that deals 
with a particular instance only. Locality fixes the mode, 
and age limits the period during which a woman takes 
special pride in her hair. The hair, in itself, signifies much 
and great pains are taken to secure a flourishing growth, 
as it is reckoned to possess great powers of attraction 
for the opposite sex. Until the age of self -consciousness 
and personal vanity is reached the hair receives but scanty 
attention, but between this age and until a few years 
after marriage many Ibo women exercise all their arts, and 
spend much time in hairdressing. In middle age and later 
life such vanities are cast aside and they revert to the 


natural woolly-headed state. Plaiting is a pronounced 
feature in the majority of styles and this is more or less 
highly developed according to local taste. Very few hairs 
are taken at a time and these are pulled and stretched, 
and then very tightly plaited into a threefold strand. The 
plaits are well rubbed with a mixture of powdered charcoal 
and oil, and then they are plastered into position on the 
scalp. In some parts this is the mode ; in other parts after 
the plaiting process, the hair is combed out into puffs. In 
any case the arrangement is elaborate and evinces con- 
siderable artistic skill. 

In connection with trade, farm-work and the water supply, 
women are called upon to carry heavy loads. They are 
borne upon the head except at times when the hair has 
been specially dressed as stated above, in which case the 
burden is carried on the shoulders. On the western side 
of the river a king's first wife must not carry loads upon 
her head. This exemption distinguishes between her and 
the other women. The women on the whole are strong and 
sturdy. When young they are very graceful and upright, 
a trait largely due, no doubt, to this custom of balancing 
loads upon the head, and promoted by the practice of 
lying flat on a hard surface when sleeping, usually without 
any other pillow than the forearm. Old women enjoy the 
doubtful privilege of being allowed to use a half-section of 
the husk of a cocoanut as a pillow. 

After marriage the women deteriorate in appearance 
at a remarkably rapid rate and often look old by the time 
they reach their twenty-fifth year. They are inclined to 
become stout and slow-moving, and soon settle down to 
their humdrum existence. Between twenty-five and forty- 
five there is but little noticeable change, and even after that 
age it is difficult to discriminate until the white hairs begin 
to manifest themselves among the black. 

Women often live to extreme old age. They continue 
their labours as long as strength permits. As a rule their 
declining days are spent in leisurely quietness, for they 
are generally respected and are seldom in danger of losing 
the affections of the younger members of the family circle. 

A Proud Trio 

Prospective brides of chiefs. The necklaces are of leopard's teeth and aggry beads, 
and ivory bracelets are loans from their future husbands. 

The staves 



Polygamy. This institution is inseparably bound up 
with the family and social life of the Ibos and, without 
exception, touches the lives of every man and woman in 
the country. Polygamy is favoured and fostered equally 
by men and women ; in some respects the latter are the 
chief supporters of the system. It is well to remember 
this fact, especially in dealing with any attempt to solve 
the many problems that arise from the custom. The 
ambition of every Ibo man is to become a polygamist, 
and he adds to the number of his wives as circumstances 
permit. They are an indication of social standing and, to 
some extent, signs of affluence ; in any case, they are 
counted as sound investments. 

Whilst polygamy is recognised as an integral part of the 
social economy of the Ibos, yet in actual fact one wife only 
is specifically acknowledged. In native law the first wife 
alone is granted the position and rights of a legal wife. 
She alone bears the title of "anasi" and, in virtue thereof, 
is accorded a measure of respect vastly superior to that 
given to any of the additional wives. Her standing also 
endows her with a powerful influence over the life and 
affairs of her husband. 

She, as anasi, is the priestess of the gods "ekwu " (small 
conical arrangements of moulded clay). These are kept 
in the apartments where she reigns supreme and none but 
she may serve them ; it is her personal and sacred right 
as first and only legal wife. 

In all public affairs, such as the taking of title, festi- 
vals, dancing and so forth, anasi enjoys privileges which 
are totally denied to all the other wives. On these 
G 97 


occasions she only is recognised and is embraced by the 
husband, and she receives equivalent honour and respect 
with him, the other wives remaining quite in the back- 

During the celebration of feasts to the " ilaw maw " (spirit 
worship), the husband will offer no food to the alusi (idols) 
other than that prepared by anasi. In every way the 
distinction between the first wife and the others is clearly 
defined, showing that, in principle, the Ibo recognises but 
one legal wife. 

The first wife is obtained either by direct payment of the 
dowry by the man himself, or is a gift from his parents. 
In the latter case she may be years older than the lad 
and be the mother of several children before he is old 
enough to fulfil the functions of a husband. 

A first wife retains her position throughout life ; she 
dominates the household and has more or less control over 
all other wives who may be added to the establishment. 
The second wife may be taken at the instigation of the 
first, and with her active co-operation, or the man may 
act on his own initiative. This generally follows after the 
birth of the first child. It is not only a matter of disgrace, 
but an actual abomination (nsaw), for an Ibo woman to 
bear children at shorter intervals than about three years. 
Should she be so unfortunate as to do so the first child is 
in danger of being cast away and abandoned on the ground 
that it would be a hindrance to the second. The idea of a 
fixed minimum period between births is based on several 
sound principles. The belief prevails strongly that it is 
necessary for this interval to elapse in order to ensure the 
mother being able to recuperate her strength completely, 
and thus be in a thoroughly fit condition to bear another 
child. Should a second child be born within the pro- 
scribed period the theory is held that it must inevitably be 
weak and sickly, and its chances jeopardised, as no mother 
is considered capable of nourishing two children simul- 
taneously. Artificial feeding is unknown, hence there can 
be no relief for the mother from the duty of suckling her 
child. There are herds of cows and goats, but neither are 
ever milked, and, if they were, the Ibo would not make 


use of the milk, the very idea being disgustingly repulsive 
to the native mind. 

The result is that, after the birth of a child, the wife is 
not supposed to cohabit with her husband for a lengthy 
period, and theoretically (but by no means in fact), they 
live separate lives. This state of affairs does not satisfy 
the man and he seeks to remedy it by procuring another 
wife. This action will engender no jealousy on the part of 
number one; indeed, as stated above, she most probably 
suggests the idea, and will gladly assist in raising the dowry 

There is another aspect of the case for polygamy, viz. 
that a woman is not content to remain the sole wife of a 
man. An only wife considers herself placed in an unen- 
viable and humiliating position. It is also lonely, as the 
sexes are not companions one to another. Again, as the 
sole wife she has to bear the whole of the domestic burdens 
of the household, and that prospect does not appeal to 
her. Therefore, for the sake of companionship, and to 
secure relief in her daily tasks, the first wife will willingly 
render assistance in bringing a second into the establish- 
ment. The average number is from three to five. Some 
men, perforce, must be content with one, whilst rich men, 
and especially kings and chiefs, will increase the number 
up to twenty and, in certain instances, they have numbered 
nearer two hundred. The great point to bear in mind is 
that the system is supported by both sexes. 

In order for polygamy to exist at all there must be 
more women than men. This, no doubt, is the case, but 
the system does not depend upon that fact. Whether more 
girls are born than boys is rather a matter of speculation 
than of exact observation, and I am reluctant to express 
an opinion, but from personal experience I am inclined 
to affirm that girls do preponderate. In almost every 
household visited one is struck by the number of girls 
as compared with boys. Then from the age of ten upwards 
the liability to death is greater amongst males owing to 
war, dangers encountered whilst travelling, and such-like 
causes. Hence were monogamy the rule a large number of 
women must, necessarily, remain unmarried. No Ibo 


woman would tolerate that condition. She would be 
exposed to every form of contempt and persecution, as 
well as obliged to suffer the bitter shame of her outraged 
feelings. The men, on their part, would declaim against 
the rule on the ground that it is contrary to nature, and 
to the practice of their fathers. It would be a deliberate 
attempt to frustrate the very purpose for which women are 
created. The primeval instinct to exercise and multiply 
is in overwhelming evidence amongst the Ibo people; it 
is really the controlling factor of their lives, the motif of 
their existence 

One factor put forward in support of the multiplication 
of wives is rather ingenious. In theory women are regarded 
as inferior creatures, little better than other household 
property, but in daily life they hold a strongly entrenched 
position, the key of which is food. Every married woman 
holds the whip hand over her husband by means of this 
vital weapon. A crossed woman will torment her husband 
in galling manner by refusing to prepare food for him, 
He may resent the treatment by becoming furiously angry 
and by vigorous corporal punishment, but neither satisfies 
his appetite, and he feels keenly the insult of having to 
retire to bed supperless. To avoid these little domestic 
difficulties a man argues that it is diplomatic, if only for 
his stomach's sake, to have a second string to his bow. He 
can then have a more certain hope of getting his meals 
from at least one. If one be suffering from a fit of the 
sulks he can play off the other against her, or again, if one 
fall sick, there will be the other to minister to his necessities. 
On the food question the women are the acknowledged 
masters of the situation, and the men, in order to secure 
the daily meals, turn to polygamy as one of the means to 
that end. In the hands of the philistines the men are 
helpless, and the women can starve them into meekness 
unless they can successfully create a division in the camp, 
in which case the wives who rally round the husband will 
be disposed to minister with even greater care and in- 
dulgence than usual in attending to his physical require- 

There is one particularly insidious evil in connection 


with polygamy which is the root of much ill-feeling and 
jealousy, and is responsible for a tremendous amount of 
adultery. This is the inflation of dowries. In some parts 
the abuse is becoming notorious. Poor men cannot obtain 
wives, or can only marry them after years of toil and effort. 
The chiefs and rich men are practically creating corners 
in wives ; fathers are tempted to increase the amount of the 
dowry and, consequently, the rich men are accumulating 
wives oftentimes far in excess of their ability to control 
them. A custom exists whereby young girls are presented 
by their guardians to men who occupy positions of 
authority in order to win favour or assistance in some 
business — legal or otherwise. They are offered and 
accepted as gifts, the donors expecting to receive certain 
benefits in exchange in lieu of money. It is a pernicious 
state of affairs. It acts as a bar to the marriage of the 
young, virile men; it creates dissatisfaction amongst the 
young wives as they are not prepared to endure married life 
simply as the appendages of one who, too often, is a more 
or less decrepit old man, and the result is an unprecedented 
increase in illicit intercourse. Sometimes this is merely 
tolerated ; at other times this promiscuous relationship 
between wives and outside men is systematised — certainly 
encouraged — for the sake of monetary gain. 

In spite of the admitted evils of polygamy, yet, as 
matters stand, a general introduction of monogamy 
would, for a time, be attended with serious difficulties 
from political and social standpoints. It would lead to 
wholesale illegitimacy. One doubts whether a single case 
amongst the heathen can be quoted of an Ibo woman 
attempting — or even manifesting the slightest inclination — 
to live a celibate life. Her constant yearning is for a home 
and children of her own. She will strive for the latter 
though she be deprived of the former; so long as poly- 
gamy exists she can have both. All elements of shame 
or dishonour, are, thereby, avoided, and she prefers the 
protection of a husband's name even though she be but a 
subsidiary wife. Hence proposals from any source to 
eradicate the system are bound to meet with strenuous 
opposition from both sexes. That so many are, at the 


present time, practising monogamy, is due solely to the 
revolutionising power of Christianity. 

The Government recognises the custom of the country. 
Native marriage is valid and there are no restrictions as 
to the number of wives a man may own. Should a man, 
however, marry under Government regulations, whether 
in church or before a registrar, he places himself under 
the marriage ordinance of the Protectorate. In these 
circumstances if he marry another wife he lays himself 
open to prosecution for bigamy. This obstacle, however, 
is easily surmounted. When such a man desires a second 
wife he marries her native fashion. This time he ignores 
the registrar and skilfully contrives to evade the official 
regulations. He obstinately refuses to admit that she is 
his wife ; she is his concubine — as flagrant an example 
of a distinction without a difference as could be invented. 

Then no Ibo woman dares to charge her husband with 
bigamy be the case ever so scandalous. For one thing 
she does not seriously resent the introduction of another 
wife, but a more potent reason by far is that she is not 
prepared to risk losing home, audi in practice, though not 
legally, her children. She is fully aware that she would 
deprive herself of any further chance of marrying again. 
She might procure a divorce from her husband, and, if 
married under Government regulations he might be pun- 
ished, but she, herself, must bear the consequences also. 
She is not prepared to sacrifice her all, and it is not difficult 
to understand her policy. 

In itself there can be no question that polygamy is a 
deadly evil, blighting to the mind, degrading to the body, 
and a factor to be taken into serious consideration as re- 
gards population. The paucity of children in polygamous 
households is notorious— the theories being completely 
upset by the facts. The following are examples culled 
from amongst one's own acquaintances. A. has nine wives ; 
from all of them but one daughter survives. B. has pro- 
bably twenty (the Ibo has a rooted objection to stating 
exact numbers, all he will answer is " some," " few," 
" many "), wives ; only one son bears his name and a 
few daughters. C. has several wives — no son at all, and 


only about as many daughters as there are wives. D. 
has more than three wives, but only one child. E. has 
five wives with three children between them. F. has as 
many wives as his compound can accommodate, but only 
three sons, and they are of a degenerate type — a type, 
indeed, which no form of imprisonment or flogging has 
been able to subjugate. 

Of course, in some compounds the children are numerous, 
perhaps twenty or thirty, or even more, but, according 
to the number of wives, there should be a great many 
more, i.e. taking the average for each wife as four or five. 
Moreover in the majority of cases the polygamous husband 
is not the actual parent of many of the children who call 
him "father." The inevitable outcome of the system, 
as already stated, is practically unrestricted adultery ; 
condemned unreservedly in theory, but condoned and 
often deliberately fostered in practice. 

The custom is productive of bestiality, and the dulling 
effect on the mind is such that a polygamist is rarely 
capable of any real mental attainment, and certainly of 
none demanding strain for a lengthened period. Efforts 
to teach some of these men the elements of reading and 
writing have met with the poorest success. Frequently it 
leads to the spread of disease, and the children, who so 
often have to bear in their bodies the effects of the sins of 
their parents, demonstrate what a blot upon the com- 
munity is the system of polygamy. One is bound to 
acknowledge that exceedingly unpleasant facts can be 
marshalled in connection with social evils in monogamous 
countries, but no one hesitates to denounce them as 
perilous and deadly in their effects. Witness also the 
earnest endeavours, parliamentary and otherwise, to check, 
and where possible, to eradicate from the community the 
root causes of these putrefying sores. In polygamous 
countries the dangers are wholesale and widespread, 
leading to the propagation of disease and the maintenance 
of a low standard of life. 

There is another point which should not be overlooked 
in studying polygamy. Although the taking of additional 
wives may be a matter of mutual consent, yet, after a 


time, it is apt to lead to violent outbursts of jealousy- 
involving not infrequently danger to life. So long as the 
husband assumes an impartial attitude to all the wives, 
or, if any special favour be shown, it be towards the head 
wife, then affairs run fairly smoothly. Domestic brawls 
among the women, however, will and do break out in a 
polygamous household, leading to fighting and general 
disturbance of the peace, but the husband leaves them 
to their own devices unless matters become serious, in 
which case he acts vigorously and some of them will 
quickly have cause to regret rousing the wrath of their 
lord and master. Every polygamist husband admits, 
without exception in my experience, that jealousy is a 
terrible curse to the system, and complains of the quarrels 
that arise amongst the wives and the children of the 
different mothers. 

So great is the friction and suspicion that the common 
practice is for the mother of the heir to send her son to 
friends at a distance as the only way to ensure his safety 
till he can succeed to his inheritance. Every wife covets 
the heirship for her son and, should opportunity present 
itself, the temptation to remove a rival claimant is likely 
to prove too much for her, hence the necessity of sending 
the rightful heir away to a temporary home, where his 
life and interests will be safely guarded from the jealous 
machinations of the rival mothers. 

Until the advent of the British, slavery was rampant 
amongst the Ibos. In earlier days great numbers of these 
people were transported to America, the West Indies, and 
to other places, and traces of their language and customs 
are said still to survive amongst the negroes in those coun- 
tries. Many Sierra Leonians are descendants of Ibo stock. 
The first settled foreigner at Onitsha was a missionary, 
the son of Ibo parents, originally slaves, who after rescue 
were landed at Freetown. The suppression of the overseas 
traffic did not lead to prohibition in the interior, and slave 
dealing continued to exist until the operations became 
more and more restricted. Under the rigorous methods 
now in force the day cannot be far distant when slavery 
will be utterly abolished. 


There are distinct differences between the customs of 
the Ibos proper and those of their neighbours in the Niger 
Delta. In the case of the latter slavery has led to the 
formation of what are termed "houses." A house may 
contain anything up to three hundred people or more, all 
rendering allegiance to the head (father). This form is 
not found amongst the Ibos. 

Four principal methods prevailed for recruiting the 
supply of slaves, viz. capture in war, kidnapping, purchase 
and pawning. The first and second were the more lucra- 
tive but involved personal risk; the third was a purely 
business transaction. The slave was either bought out- 
right, or he was made over to settle some financial claim, 
human beings being used as a medium of exchange when- 
ever it appeared to be the most convenient method. 
The last was the custom in vogue as a debtor's last re- 
source to meet his liabilities. In this case the "pawn's" 
position, and the length of his detention as a slave, were 
determined by the ability and willingness of his relatives 
to redeem him. 

Internecine warfare was a regular part of life. On the 
slightest pretext one town would attack the next, regard- 
less of the fact that the inhabitants were of kindred race. 
If they fought simply amongst themselves any captives 
taken were either killed and eaten, or sold as slaves, or 
set aside to serve as human sacrifices. It was not unusual, 
however, for the people of one town to hire mercenaries 
to assist them in their operations, and these mercenaries 
appropriated the major portion of the loot, including the 
captives, as part compensation for services rendered. 
Such were the dreaded Abams on the eastern side of the 
Niger and the Ekmu-meku on the western side. 

A much more insidious method of obtaining slaves is 
that of kidnapping, a practice which at one time terrorised 
the whole country, and the fear of which is so ingrained 
that a long period will elapse before its effects are totally 
eradicated. Men lie in ambush and pounce upon any 
unwary individuals who happen to stray beyond the safety- 
limits of their own town. Formerly it was highly dangerous 
for folk to venture even as far as their farms, or for traders 


to travel from place to place, unless they journeyed in 
companies, were well-armed and kept diligent watch. In 
spite of all precautionary measures, great numbers of men 
and women were seized, and the possibility of being kid- 
napped practically prevented towns from enjoying peace- 
ful intercourse one with another for any lengthened period. 

Man-stealing was not limited to chance captures in farms 
or on the highway. It was carried to greater excesses by 
fearless and unscrupulous burglars whose speciality was 
the stealing of children. Observations were made to dis- 
cover a hut wherein it was customary for children to sleep, 
and in the dead of night it would be raided. If an entrance 
were effected any elders present were in imminent danger 
of being ruthlessly murdered in order to prevent the town 
being aroused and, particularly, to ensure that none should 
be left to reveal the identity of the thieves. 

The children were gagged and bound and carried off, 
rolled in cloth or slipped into a bag. The number of slaves 
originally procured by this process was extraordinary, 
and one is continually meeting with young fellows who 
have not the remotest idea of the identity of their parents 
or birthplace. All they know is that they were kidnapped 
in their infancy. The majority were sold as ordinary 
slaves, others were purchased specially for consecration 
to the alusi (town deities). Some of the latter were 
horribly mutilated. One has seen lads with mouths so 
distorted by gags that they were rendered permanently 
incapable of clear utterance ; eyes injured until they were 
almost sightless, and legs broken and left to set in distorted 
positions, these atrocities having been inflicted to prevent 
escape. Slaves thus consecrated to the alusi are attached 
to no household ; they must live within the precincts of 
the ju-ju house, and effective measures were, therefore, 
taken to ensure compliance with this rule. 

The third method, viz. purchase, needs no explanation. 
In most towns of any importance and boasting a reputable 
market, slaves formed part of the regular merchandise. 

A slave had no rights of person or property. He could 
be sold for cash, or given as payment of a debt, or simply 
handed over to a new master in order to procure a favour ; 


in fact he could be disposed of in any manner his owner 
chose. When slaves were required for sacrificial purposes, 
or burial ceremonies, they were usually purchased. Some 
of those dedicated to the alusi were also bought and they 
were considered as equivalent to a money gift to the deity. 
In certain districts they were not uncommonly acquired 
in order to furnish a supply of meat. 

The system of pawning is based pretty much upon the 
idea conveyed by the literal meaaing of that term, i.e. 
human beings are used as security for money owed. 
Parents pawn their children, or an elder brother will pawn 
his younger brothers or sisters, and he can even put him- 
self in pawn. It is done always on account of debt. 
Borrowing is a pronounced habit amongst the Ibos, and 
usury, when imposed, is apt to be very excessive. But the 
debtor may defer repayment of the loan, if he prefers, until 
the lender himself stands in need of money. The result 
is that it sometimes falls out that a man is suddenly called 
upon to liquidate a debt contracted by a long-since- 
deceased grandfather. Then if he has not the where- 
withal to pay he resorts to the system of pawning his 
children, relatives and finally himself. Such pawns are 
treated as, and remain virtually, slaves until their redemp- 
tion, a method of relief acknowledged theoretically but 
scarcely ever put into operation. A child thus disposed 
of is, in fact, seldom redeemed. None of his kin would be 
sufficiently interested or unselfish to subscribe the money 
for such a purpose. It follows that a child so pawned 
remains a slave for life, and any offspring born to him 
are slaves from birth. 

The owing of very trifling sums may lead to this catas- 
trophe in a child's life. For a debt of a couple of pounds 
one has known a man forced to render as many years' 
service before being able to release himself. A typical 
instance was one met with in the hinterland west of Asaba. 
A lad was put in pawn by his father to meet a debt of 
£2 10s. When I met this lad he had already served ten 
years and was then full grown, but still a slave, his relatives 
having failed to redeem him. There is an ingenious 
method by which a man may raise the funds to purchase 


his freedom, provided he has one real friend and a big 
stock of patience. The friend must supply him with a 
she-goat, and by sales of the offspring he can, in time, 
accumulate sufficient money to pay the redemption price. 
Such a procedure is rare, the great difficulty being to find 
someone willing to supply the goat, and the longer a man 
remains in pawn the less his chances become of ever 
regaining his freedom. 

One peculiar and apparently unjust feature of the system, 
entailing great hardships, should be noted. A debt is not 
cancelled by the death either of the contractor or the 
pawn who was given as pledge. When a pawn dies the 
original debt is revived, and the pawns, brother, or some 
other relative, must be handed over to the creditor as 
security in lieu of the deceased. 

Although there is a recognised distinction between 
pawns and slaves proper, yet no actual difference is 
observed in their treatment or status, with the sole ex- 
ception that pawns being members of the same com- 
munity as their masters, would not be used as victims for 
human sacrifice nor to provide a feast ; slaves from out- 
side districts must be sought for these purposes. 

As the very life of a slave depends upon the caprice of 
his owner, it is obvious that he can enjoy only such pri- 
vileges as may be granted him. This does not mean that 
the slave must necessarily pass a hopelessly unhappy exis- 
tence ; on the contrary he may be quite cheerful and 
contented, and, in certain parts, may attain to a position 
of comfort and even affluence. As the " merciful man is 
merciful to his beast," so the wise master, to some extent, 
is watchful in his own interests over his slaves. It is to 
his advantage if his slaves dwell contentedly. For one 
thing the master's own life is too often in the hands of his 
slaves, and poisons are plentiful. With his manifold 
opportunities of handling food it would not be wise to 
rouse a slave to bitter resentment and keep him about 
the establishment. 

In normal circumstances the owner gives facilities for 
the slave to build his own little hut, and to cultivate his 
own farm, and to make himself as satisfied as possible with 


his conditions. For these personal affairs he is granted the 
free use of one day in four (the Ibo week). When the 
question of marriage arises, several courses are open. The 
most desirable is for the master to hand over another slave 
to be his wife, the man of course paying nothing in the way 
of dowry. There is then no possibility of dispute as to 
the ownership of the children of the union ; they all belong 
to the master. The same result ensues when the master 
purchases a woman from an outside source as a wife for 
his slave. In certain cases two owners may enter into a 
compact, each retaining an interest in one party to the 
marriage, though of course the woman is passed on to 
live with her slave husband and comes under the general 
control of her husband's master. When this is done each 
owner takes a child alternately. 

All slaves are called upon to contribute to the upkeep 
of the house and to subscribe their share towards main- 
taining or enhancing the dignity of their master. Extra 
levies are demanded of them on special occasions, i.e. 
when an owner is desirous of proceeding to a higher titular 
degree, or of erecting new buildings, or of making feasts. 
Discontent with their lot cannot be openly expressed, 
and any infringement of the established rules of the house 
will bring retribution of no uncertain character. 

He is, indeed, a bold man who essays to run away, and 
woe be unto him if he be recaptured. He can be secured 
with chains, beaten, starved and ill-treated in the most 
horrible manner: mutilations and other barbarities that 
cannot be recorded may be inflicted. On the other hand 
it must be noticed that, in the majority of cases, masters 
and slaves remain in cordial relationship to one another. 
Where the slaves accept their lot, and settle down uncom- 
plainingly, and are ready to fulfil the duties required of 
them, the masters in their turn usually treat them with 

Not infrequently a slave becomes the companion and 
confidant of his master, and is put into a position de- 
manding great trustworthiness. So much is this the case 
that I have never met a slave who hankered after or even 
expressed a desire for freedom. Indeed, in instances where 


the possibility of freedom has been suggested to young 
men they have indignantly refused to consider the proposal. 
On one occasion I talked at length on " liberty " and on 
all the advantages that liberty bestows upon a man, to a 
young fellow with whom I was closely acquainted. He 
listened attentively until I had finished and then quietly 

remarked, " What has N done to me that I should 

seek my liberty ? I never knew my parents. I do not 
even know where I was born. All the love and affection 

that I have ever experienced have come from N . He 

has been father and mother to me ; he has clothed, fed 
and educated me. Why should I forsake my benefactor 
and by so acting repudiate all he has done for me ? Why, 
he is my father ! " 

At present the majority of slaves would probably argue 
in a similar strain. As a matter of fact to emancipate a 
slave might be to confer on him a doubtful blessing. If 
he be old or uneducated he will simply become an outcast 
without home, farm, or any means of subsistence. He is 
not likely to meet with sympathy, for the natives would 
not recognise him as a freeman but would stigmatise him 
as a presumptuous renegade, flaunting a liberty which 
was not his by right. 

In the end such a one would thankfully return to his 
former condition. Given a certain amount of education, 
or a knowledge of a trade, a man might take up his freedom 
and prosper. He could obtain employment from foreigners 
and soon attain to independent position. In any case the 
question resolves itself into " once a slave always a slave " 
in the eyes of the people. In the ordinary daily life the 
position of such an ex-slave would not be difficult, but 
immediately the question of marriage came up, or of the 
assumption of native titles, or of any advance in social 
rank, he would meet with insurmountable opposition. 
In these circumstances it would be forced upon him, 
without any possibility of doubt, that the stigma of 
slavery cannot be obliterated. 

Domestic slavery has one very commendable feature 
in the political and social economy of the country. Every 
person is sure of a home and of food as long as a supply is 


forthcoming — this obviates all necessity for unions, casual 
wards, poor-law administration and its attendant taxes, 
and completely solves the problem of the unemployed. 
The whole system of domestic slavery, whilst being 
intensely repugnant in some of its aspects, yet has some 
features which are beneficial, and which bring the whole 
community into mutual relationship. 1 

1 Cf. Chapter XIII, p. 153. The Repeal of the "House Ordinance " 
and the consequent abolition of all forms of slavery as from January 1st, 



One of the particularly noticeable characteristics of the 
Ibos is the unsportsmanlike manner in which the majority 
give up the ghost. The simplest ailment is sufficient to 
produce collapse and the patient apparently loses all 
interest in life. A cough, a cold, a headache will render a 
man hors de combat and he at once considers himself 
incapable of exertion of any kind. He sits or lies down, 
a picture of abject misery, and receives, with fitting 
melancholy, the sympathetic condolences of his friends. 
Should he be attacked by serious illness he will stoically 
endure the treatment of the native dibias (medicine-men), 
however unpalatable and drastic it may be, but it is the 
hardest matter to induce him to exert any will power 
towards recovery. It is astonishing how many lie down 
and die for no adequate reason as far as one can judge. 
Life simply flickers out. One cannot help noticing how 
many of the younger men and women die in this manner. 
Around the patient are collected the members of the 
family, and neighbours and visitors pass in and out 
unhindered, doing little more than excluding light and air. 
All are most persistent in addressing the patient, and 
with endless repetition utter the word " ndo," an expression 
which conveys a much deeper and more comprehensive 
meaning than the English word " sympathy." As long 
as breath remains in the body there is little excitement. 
Some sit or stand with sorrowful countenances, whilst 
others move about in a casual manner, seemingly but 
little affected by the scene. But immediately the patient 
dies there is a wild outburst of wailing. In the case of a 
near relative, as a wife for her husband, or a mother for 


Surgical Knives 
A Copper Bracelet 

2. A Brass Anklet 

4. Cast-brass Tobacco Pipes 


her child, it speedily develops into a form of frenzy. The 
bereaved woman rushes forth from the death chamber, 
beating her breast, and runs through the village bewailing 
her loss at the top of her voice. She salutes none, but 
continues to cry out even when she has left the town 
behind her. A woman will thus pass the whole night in 
the bush pouring out her lamentations, and return next 
morning in an utterly exhausted condition. 

Meanwhile other women attend to the corpse. It is 
washed and then stained all over with " ufie " (camwood). 
Wide lines are chalked round the closed eyes and all hair 
is shaved off the head. The body is clothed in the finest 
garments from the deceased's wardrobe, and, in the case 
of a man, the corpse is placed on a stool in a sitting 
posture, propped against the wall of the chamber. 

For a woman the same procedure is followed but, 
except in very rare cases, she must be placed on the 
ground ; occasionally a sitting posture is adopted, but 
usually she is simply laid flat — the idea being that as it is 
not customary for a woman to sit upon a chair in life, she 
should not be placed in a false position in death. In some 
districts, especially the river-side towns where gin is a 
regular article of commerce, the corpse is liberally 
sprinkled with the liquor. This is done solely for the sake 
of the odour of the spirit. Before the corpse, thus pre- 
pared, are placed the deceased's special treasures, also the 
implements of his trade, his hoe, his fishing gear, his 
blacksmith's tools, his gun and hunting outfit and so on. 
Should he be a rich man a bowl of cowries is added — a 
symbol to indicate that he was a man of means. This 
lying, or rather sitting in state, lasts for a few hours, and 
all old friends and relatives available will come and pay 
their last respects to the dead. When due time has 
elapsed for this sitting in state, young men wind the 
corpse in grass mats, carry it out to the burial ground and 
bury it in a shallow grave. The body is laid upon its back, 
and no thought is given as to the position or direction of 
the grave. 

This is the customary course for a normal death and 
burial, but there are deviations from the rule. 


The exceptions are governed chiefly by considerations of 
birth, rank and the cause of death. A slave receives but 
scant attention, and no unnecessary expense will be 
incurred in carrying out the last rites for him. Nor will 
any man be accused of neglect, or considered lacking in 
respect for the dead, for providing merely a pauper's 
burial. The deceased has simply passed from one existence 
as a slave to a similar position in the spirit world, and 
therefore is entitled to no more than a slave's portion — as 
much or as little in death as in life. 

For a free-born man the best possible arrangements 
must be made — there must be no half-measures, and no 
stinginess on the part of the family. In the case of a 
chief or rich person the highest honours will be rendered 
and no expense spared to give their relative a worthy 
send-off. On the other hand, the bodies of lepers, and 
such as die from noxious diseases, and those whose death 
cannot be accounted for satisfactorily, are disposed of 
hurriedly. Lepers are wound in their sleeping mat. 
Those who die of smallpox are not buried ; they are 
simply thrown out into the ajaw-awfia (bad bush) very 
often indeed before they are dead. 

People dying as the result of accident ; women dying 
in childbirth ; lunatics, suicides and those who have 
been murdered, drowned or burned are considered as 
having come to their untimely ends by "awnwu ekwensu," 
i.e. by the instrumentality of the Devil. None of these 
may be rubbed with the ufie and they must be buried 
without delay. 

When the head of a family dies, or a chief, he is 
buried in a deep grave beneath the floor of his private 
apartment. In the hinterland of Asaba the grave is 
marked by the figure of a man pricked out with cowrie 
shells. Ordinarily the heir succeeds to the property, and 
household affairs go on much as heretofore. In rare 
instances the whole compound is forsaken, but this is 
done, not out of respect for the dead, but because the 
surviving members of the family have come to the con- 
clusion that it is located on an unlucky site. Deaths (or 
other calamities) have been rather too frequent, and it is 


deemed advisable to try another and healthier neigh- 
bourhood. Burial, as a general rule, follows within 
twenty-four hours of death. This rule, however, does not 
apply to men of very high rank. For these another course 
is adopted, viz. the body is preserved until suitable 
arrangements can be made for ensuring a funeral corre- 
sponding to the rank of the deceased. The most common 
plan is to lay the body on a couch of clay, hollowed out 
beneath in the form of an arch. Slow fire is placed under 
the arch and the corpse is gradually shrivelled dry. 1 
When this procedure is followed it is not permissible to 
publish the death of the man ; the fact must not even be 
mentioned in public. The announcement of the death of 
the late king of Onitsha was not made until a full year 
had elapsed after his decease. The fact that no one saw 
him during the interval signified nothing, as but few 
beyond his own personal attendants ever did see him, he 
being forbidden by royal custom from leaving his com- 
pound. To venture outside the gate would be to commit 
an act of grave sacrilege, except occasionally by night 
when he might surreptitiously slip out to visit some of his 
near relatives. 

On the western side of the river the death of a king 
must not be proclaimed until the arrival on the scene of 
his eldest son, who naturally succeeds to the title. The 
underlying idea is that the throne is never vacant. " The 
king is dead ; long live the king " is the maxim that 
applies in this case. The eldest son, up to the time of his 
recall, i.e. on the death of his father, lives away from his 
own town in the care of another king who undertakes to 
initiate and to train the young man in the mysteries and 
duties of the kingship. 2 

The desire of every Ibo man and woman is to die in 
their own town or, at least, to be buried within its 
precincts. For a long period it was very difficult to 
persuade a man to travel any distance from his native 

1 In the case of a king it is usual for the corpse to be decapitated before 

2 See also Chapter IX, p. 104, for other reasons why the heir does not 
live at home. 


place, and if he were in need of medical assistance an Ibo 
would seldom agree to go from home in spite of assurances 
that he would be able to have better treatment elsewhere. 
In case of death occurring at a distance, if it can be done 
at all, the brethren will bring the body home for burial. 
It may be that this cannot be done for several days, 
according to distance and other circumstances. I have 
often seen bearers conveying a corpse homewards in order 
to fulfil the last desire of their departed relative. That 
some time had elapsed since death had taken place was 
only too evident, the pungent reek of putrid flesh being 
almost overwhelming. This may account for the fact that 
the bearers of a corpse always travel at a jog-trot. One 
has even known cases where the body has been exhumed 
in order to convey it home instead of allowing it to remain 
in a restless and unhappy condition in a strange land. 

The corpse is wrapped in a grass mat and pieces of 
cloth and is borne on a rough stretcher by two carriers. 
In times of peace, and where travelling is deemed safe, this 
duty is invariably performed by men. When hostilities 
are in progress, or there are other signs of danger, two 
women will act as bearers. In this case the bearers must 
belong to the same town as the deceased. Such a cortege 
would not be molested. In the same circumstances men 
would run the risk of capture or death, their errand not 
rendering them immune from attack. 

An "ada," i.e. a daughter being a native of one town 
married to a man in another town, must be brought back 
to her original home for burial except she has grown-up 
sons, in which case these will bury their mother in her own 
house or compound. 

The outward signs of mourning on the part of males are 
not extravagant. A sad demeanour is maintained, and a 
husband should restrict himself to the confines of his 
compound for seven Ibo weeks (28 days) when mourn- 
ing the loss of his wife. A newly-made widow acts 
likewise, but in her case the wailings and other indications 
of mourning are profuse. At the conclusion of the 
lamentations — and after the burial ceremonies have been 
fulfilled — both widowers and widows shave their heads as 

Visitors from the Spirit World 

The ceremony of making " Maw " (ju-ju) prevails throughout the Ibo country. Men dress 
themselves in weird costumes covering every part of their body, and disguise their voices by means 
of a small instrument in the mouth (igwe). These represent re-embodied spirits. 


a symbol of grief and bereavement. At intervals during 
the twenty-eight days of retreat crowds of friends and 
relatives visit the house and a general time of excitement 
prevails, with singing and dancing, drum-beating and 
other forms of music, and the inevitable consumption of 
palm wine and gin. Enormous quantities of food and 
liquor are consumed at some of these gatherings. This is 
all done with the sole idea of distracting the attention of 
the bereaved one from the thought of his great loss ; he 
must not be allowed to brood over it. 

As a general rule no signs are set up to indicate that 
death has visited a household, but in certain places — as at 
Awka — it is customary to hang strips of cloth, pennant- 
wise, on long poles, or to hang up a shirt or other garment 
belonging to the deceased to announce the fact that the 
owner thereof has passed away. 

Holding the most profound belief in the supernatural, 
the Ibo is deeply conscious of his relationship to the 
unseen world, and every precaution must be observed in 
order to keep the spirit of the departed in a state of 
peaceful contentment. The Ibo will endure everything 
demanded of him in this life ; will put up with hardships, 
the misbehaviour of his children, indeed anything, in 
order to insure that his burial will be properly performed. 
His whole future welfare depends upon this, and hence 
it takes, at all times, a most prominent place in a man's 

In certain districts it was formerly by no means rare to 
find that a woman had made arrangements whereby she 
died before reaching the period of enforced inactivity. There 
was the perpetual dread lest she should be unable to secure 
a guarantee or leave sufficient property whereby she 
might be sure of a worthy burial. To relieve her mind she 
would strive to accumulate the necessary funds and then, 
divining that the days of her decline were near, she would 
enter into an agreement with her son, or some other young 
man, in which he undertook to fulfil all her wishes in 
connection with her burial, she, on her part, duly com- 
pensating him for all the expense and trouble involved. 
These preliminaries having been mutually settled ? the 


woman either poisoned herself or the draught was ad- 
ministered to her, in order that the final rites in connection 
with the second burial might be fulfilled with as little delay 
as possible. 

It was also a custom for poor relatives to sell old people, 
especially a woman decrepit and sick. She was bought 
by strangers to be converted into meat, and the money 
obtained by the sale was devoted to the expenses of the 
second burial, this being considered much more important 
than her latter end on earth, or the disposal of her actual 

Except in a few specific cases, as those mentioned 
above, the actual burial of a corpse takes place within 
a few hours of death. This of course allows very little 
time to make due preparation, and hence the spirit must, 
perforce, be content with a hurried despatch until adequate 
arrangements can be made for a fitting introduction to the 
spirit world. 

There appears to be no distinction between soul and 
spirit ; for all practical purposes they are held to be 
identical. Their belief in the " spirit-life " is exceedingly 
tenacious, and with it there is a profound conviction of the 
existence of a future state. This belief exercises an 
immense influence in creating fear and superstition, but 
in no way does it act as an incentive to regard the present 
life as a probationary one, preparatory to the life to come. 
When a man dies he is alluded to as having " gone home," 
or simply as having " gone to the spirit world," and the 
mourning of the survivors is that of those who have said 
" farewell " for the time being only. The underlying idea 
is that God sends men and women into the world for the 
purpose of fulfilling the functions of life, and thus main- 
taining a succession of mankind upon the earth. Each is 
sent endowed with the peculiar talents for his vocation in 
life, the farmer is fitted for his own work ; the doctor for 
his profession, and so forth. In reply to the question as to 
what happens in the case of those who die in infancy one is 
informed that though the child does not, on this occasion, 
exercise its powers as a citizen, yet, in due course, it will be 
reborn into this world, and will then perform the duties 


to which it may be appointed. The term " going home " 
is never applied to the death of a child. On the other 
hand when more than two children of the same mother 
die consecutively, the first two will be given an ordinary 
burial, but the third and subsequent deaths will demon- 
strate the fact that it is an unlucky child and must not 
be reincarnated. The thought in the mind of the parents 
is that it is the same child reappearing time after time 
and as it will not live it is better to destroy it altogether. 
In some parts the father or the male relatives convey 
the corpse outside the town and there burn it. The 
ashes are ground to powder and scattered to the four 

When men have run their course in this world they 
return to their master — the Supreme Being — and live with 
him in the spirit world. In their spiritual state they are 
endowed with never-ending life, and, until the ceremony 
of second burial has been observed, they continue to 
haunt this world, wandering at will in the houses, com- 
pound and farms, invisible, yet ever present, and taking 
a distinct and unremitting interest in the affairs of the 
individual and the community with which they associated 
in life. After the rites of second burial have been com- 
pleted the " spirits " depart to their appointed place and 
rest in peace until their reincarnation, i.e. as long as they 
behave themselves. Should they be so unfortunate as to 
rouse the ire of their master, they are in danger of being 
banished to "amanri maw na madu," an intermediate 
state between this material world and the spirit world. 
The term indicates that such spirits have no place of abode, 
they are thenceforth " wanderers," lost souls. There, 
for ever, they pass a miserable, restless existence, without 
hope for their spirit life, and prohibited from being reborn 
into this world. 

There is no belief in transmigration into any but human 
bodies, but we find a strongly grounded belief in the 
perpetuation of individuals by the medium of repeated 
births. Provided a spirit conducts himself worthily, and 
so escapes relegation to amanri maw na madu, he will 
be reborn at the appointed season and he will resume 


his life in this world. In due time he will be called 
" home " once more and so the process will be repeated 
for all eternity. 

Mention has been made of the term second burial. 
This needs brief explanation and any account of the Ibo 
belief in the " spirit " would be incomplete without it. 
Second burial is the name adopted by Europeans and 
arises from the fact that, to all intents and purposes, there 
are two burials — the first real, the second by proxy. 
Amongst the natives the custom is known by two names, 
Those on the west side of the Niger speak of it as " inu- 
ozu" (to bury the dead) whilst those on the eastern side 
term it "ikwa-ozu" (to mourn, cry, for the dead). The 
deceased has already been buried amidst much lamenta- 
tion but with little ceremony. In the meanwhile all 
preparations have been completed to enable his friends to 
introduce him with due honours to those with whom he 
must henceforth associate in the spirit world. 

A day is fixed for the festival, usually "oye day" for a 
man and " nkwaw day " for a woman (the second and fourth 
days of the Ibo week). The articles required are meal, 
palm wine, coco-nut (to be eaten as a special token of 
grief) and as big a supply of gin as circumstances permit. 
In the case of a man renowned in warfare a ram is 
slaughtered as a mark of honour ; it must be killed by a 
brother warrior, and only warriors may partake of its flesh. 
These old comrades of war and the chase are expected to 
organise a great hunt in honour of their deceased brother. 
Whatsoever is killed — whether man or beast — is then 
consecrated and partaken of in pious memory of their late 
companion in arms. 

On the evening prior to ikwa-ozu guns are fired to 
intimate to the friends and neighbours that the cere- 
monies will be duly observed on the morrow. By the same 
means the spirit of the dead man is also notified of the 
coming proceedings, in order that he may rejoice simul- 
taneously with his relatives, and that he may be fully 
cognisant of his dispatch to join his brother spirits. A sort 
of wicker-work coffin ("ibwudu") is constructed of a size 
corresponding to that of the deceased, the corpse having 



I. Skengas 

The one on the right is covered with the remains of blood from sacrifices. 
the left is a new Skenga, as yet uninhabiied by a spirit. 

2. The "Maw-Afia" 

The spirit of a dead man appearing to his friends. 

The one on 


been measured with a line immediately after death. This 
is covered with a grass mat and then with white cloth, and, 
thus enshrouded, serves as the substitute for the body. 
The ibwudu is placed in the man's house or compound, in 
a position where it can be viewed by the assembled folk. 
Two alusi (idols), viz. the ikenqa and the afaw are set up 
before the "ibwudu" and these are sprinkled with the 
blood of the sacrifices. The flesh of the animals thus 
offered to the spirits is then consumed by those par- 
ticipating in the ceremonies. The night following, the 
ibwudu is buried in the same grave as the actual corpse. 
This last act is performed by the same company of the 
"umu-ilo" (children of the street) who buried the real 
corpse. Having now been accorded an honourable burial, 
the spirit of the dead will, henceforth, rest in peace. 
Neglect to fulfil the rites of second burial leads to 
disastrous consequences. The " spirit " itself is unhappy, 
a homeless wanderer, and finding no rest, will not cease to 
haunt its former dwelling-place, and will assuredly wreak 
fitting vengeance on the relatives for their unfeeling and 
unwarrantable negligence. According to custom a widow 
(or widows) may not leave the compound without liability 
to incur disgrace or reproach for disrespectful conduct 
towards the dead, nor can any of them re-marry as long 
as the rites of second burial remain unfulfilled. 

These second burials are costly affairs. The very 
poorest will spend their all, and often heavy debts are 
incurred in the desire to give the best possible " send-off " 
to a relative. Some idea of this lavish expenditure may be 
gathered from an instance of which I made some notes. 

I was passing through Awka one day and came across a 
display of funeral trophies. There were 21 skulls of cows, 

II of pigs, and 10 of goats. The price of cows is £5 apiece, 
pigs £2, and goats 10s. In addition to these animals 
provided for sacrificial feasting, many cases of gin (then 
15s. per case) and an unlimited supply of palm wine, yams 
and other provisions were consumed. That funeral must 
have cost at the lowest estimate £150, and it would 
probably be nearer the mark to fix the figure at £200. 
Of course such expenses could be incurred only by a rich 


family, but every family will spend to its utmost capacity 
when fulfilling the rites of second burial. 

One of the functions allotted to women in the solemnis- 
ing of the rites of second burial is that known as 
"itu-uni." It is performed on the day of the ceremony 
and must be done whilst the ibwudu is still in position, 
i.e. prior to its burial. Beneath the ibwudu is the 
deceased's idol called "clii" (God) and alongside this are 
placed the special offerings brought for the occasion by 
the women of the house. The first-born son then places a 
piece of white cloth upon the chi. The cloth having been 
consecrated, it is removed by the ada (chief woman) of 
the clan or village, who proceeds to tear it into strips for 
equal division among the dead man's daughters. The strips 
are girded round the waist of these daughters, and they 
indicate to the public that the final ceremonies for the 
glorification of their father's spirit have been duly per- 

For the actual burial of a king or for the second 
burial of a chief it was customary to put to death one or 
more slaves (ndi iji kwa ozu). As already noticed the 
death of a king is not noticed officially until all adequate 
preparations are made for a burial commensurate with his 
dignity, and hence there is no need for second burial in 
his case. 

It is essential to distinguish between mere execution in 
the course of funeral rites and the custom of human 
sacrifice. The latter appears to be always of an atoning 
character, whilst the victims at a burial are put to death 
solely to provide attendant spirits to accompany the chief 
into the great beyond. A king or chief must not enter the 
spirit world unaccompanied by a retinue. He must have 
his messenger and personal servant and slaves to attend to 
his needs, sentinels and so forth. The presence of these 
slaves will demonstrate his rank and dignity to those with 
whom he will associate in the spirit world, and he will thus 
be accorded every mark of dignity and respect. The 
number of slaves (one or more) who accompanied a chief 
through the gates of death was determined by the 
resources of the deceased's estate. The initial stage of the 


proceedings was common to both a king and a chief, and 
was as follows : A strong lad of fifteen or sixteen years 
was selected to act as the messenger and personal servant. 
Over his shoulder was placed the private bag — a receptacle 
made from the complete skin of a goat or, more usually, 
from that of a small animal akin to a leopard. The head 
is severed and the skin flayed off without further cutting. 
Into this bag the personal treasures of the deceased were 
placed, such as his own cup (calabash) and snuff-box, 
together with kola nuts and certain eatables. As soon as 
the lad was thus prepared two young men were seized, 
half killed, and then laid in the grave. The lad with the 
bag was forced to lie between them. The corpse of the 
king, or the ibwudu in the case of the second burial of a 
chief, was laid lengthwise on the lad in such a way that it 
rested partly on all the three victims and, thus arranged, 
the grave was immediately filled in. 

In the case of a king more attendants joined him in his 
journey to the unseen world. The public executioner was 
employed for the purpose. One man was bound hand and 
foot and placed beside the door of the house, and he was 
despatched by his throat being cut. Another was killed at 
the outer gate of the compound at the spot known as the 
"obubus madu" (place of execution). He was likewise 
bound hand and foot, but the method employed in bring- 
ing about his death was different. He was laid upon his 
back with his neck across a piece of timber, a second piece 
was then fixed above the neck, and when in position men 
stood on the two ends till the unfortunate wretch was 
suffocated. This was known as " nfi-bu " (lit. killing by 
tying). A third man was led to the sacred grove of ebwo 
trees in the compound and there beheaded. More were 
killed at other spots, e.g. upon certain alusi (idols) fixed 
beneath the ebwo trees. The corpses of all these victims 
were not buried ; they had to be cast away in the ajaw- 
awfia (bush devoted to receive corpses of outcasts) where 
the remains of human sacrifices were deposited. 

In the Asaba hinterland the custom for the burial of 
leading men was to place them in a huge coffin con- 
structed of roughly hewn planks. The grave was deep 


and wide, and the bottom was lined with from one 
to three, or even more, human victims. The cumbersome 
coffin was raised as high as the bearers could lift it over 
the open grave, and then allowed to drop with a sickening 
thud upon the wretched creatures below. 

At Onitsha, Asaba and other riverside towns, some 
later customs have been introduced from the Igarra 
people. Under this heading comes the " ozu-alu," a 
ceremony which is performed only in connection with the 
second burial of those who are of the rank of a chief. For 
a man of first rank the second burial rites are prolonged 
for several days. On the day following the burial of the 
ibwudu the ceremony of ozu-olu begins. The signal for 
this is the appearance twice a day (morning and evening) 
of the maw-afia (spirits of the Olu people). 1 There 
is a terrific din from the beating of tom-toms (egwu-olu), 
and the shouts of the assembled company, and the whole 
proceeding grows into a noisy drinking carousal. The 
number of the maw-afia is determined by the number of 
" umunna," i.e. the heads of the different families constitut- 
ing the clan — each head being required to provide one 
maw-afia. These quaint apparitions, needless to say, are 
men disguised in grotesque fashion, with their bodies com- 
pletely enveloped in cloth, and uttering peculiar sounds 
by means of air instruments fixed between their teeth. 
To the excited audience these are verily believed to be 
figures animated by spirits from the underworld. For four 
consecutive days the programme varies little, and then 
comes the formal visit to the grave of the deceased chief. 
The noise and excitement reaches the utmost pitch, all the 
relatives crying out " Welcome, welcome to our father," 
until, suddenly, firearms are discharged, and the maw- 
afia appear escorting the " spirit " of the dead man from 
his house, beneath the floor of which his body lies buried. 
On his return to this world the " spirit " walks slowly, 
with tottering, uncertain steps, and muttering words with 
a feeble voice — his speech being disguised similarly to 
that of the maw-afia. The poor " spirit " is as yet weak 
from its enforced imprisonment in the grave, it needs time 
1 All spirits (maws) are supposed to rise out of the ground. 


and food to recover its lost strength. Meanwhile the 
escorting maw-afia are busily engaged, in dusting down 
the " spirit " to remove the earth stains of the^grave. 
Amidst profound expressions of joy on the part of the 
assembled relatives and friends the " spirit " meanders 
round ; on this first day for a short time only. His strength 
is soon exhausted and he returns to the house and dis- 

On the fifth day the " spirit " comes forth again but 
without the attendant maw-afia. They are no longer 
needed as the " spirit " has fully recovered his powers. 
He can walk faster, and speak loudly and clearly. He goes 
in and out amongst his kinsfolk comforting and exhorting 
his wives and children. After this tour he returns to his 
house and assumes his former position on the " ukpo " (seat 
of honour), his attendants all the time vigorously fanning 
him. His daughters bring presents of gin and cowries, 
and to manifest his gratitude for the gifts a day is appointed 
by the men present, acting on behalf of the " spirit," on 
which he will make a special visit to the women-folk of that 
particular village. The " spirit " then retires to his own 
place once more. 

On the appointed day he tours the whole town speaking 
words of comfort and counsel, and in return receives 
abundant presents, and thus having fulfilled every duty of 
a good, kind-hearted and contented " spirit " he dis- 
appears finally. For men of secondary rank the ceremony 
of ozu-olu extends over but two or three days. 

After second burial the departed spirit finds a home at 
Ezira. This is a town lying some twenty-five to thirty 
miles south of Awka, and it is considered the gate of 
heaven by the people of all the surrounding country. 
If anyone wishes to know the opinion of a deceased 
relative upon any matter he may be put into communica- 
tion with the spirit of the departed. It can all be arranged 
for him, at Ezira, for a consideration, which varies in 
amount according to circumstances, £12 being the price 
paid on some occasions. But direct communication is not 
advisable ; there must be a medium, otherwise the spirit 
from the other world may exercise such a powerful 


influence over the inquirer that ere long he himself will be 
a permanent dweller at Ezira. Hence all conversations 
with departed friends are carried on indirectly, i.e. through 
a third person. 

After a visit to Ezira I was asked eagerly to describe 
what the place was like. Was it very beautiful ? Did it 
appear to be like heaven ? and many similar questions. 
So long as inquirers are content to employ mediums to 
carry on conversations between themselves and the 
departed, so long will Ezira continue to be regarded as the 
gate of heaven by the people dwelling thereabout. 



Ordinarily the Ibo is a very serious person. At the same 
time he has a well-developed humorous side to his nature 
and he can, on occasion, give play to his emotions with 
complete abandon ; so much so that he becomes totally 
oblivious of things around him. 

The games commonly played by the boys and girls have 
been described in Chap. V. In the case of adults it is 
not always easy to distinguish between recreation and 
serious occupation ; sometimes the two are combined, as 
in shooting. In the case of dancing it is often difficult to 
differentiate between that which is simply recreative and 
that which is the physical expression of religious enthusi- 
asm. Shooting, wrestling, dancing and swimming are the 
sports of men; comparatively few of the women swim, 
but all indulge freely in dancing. The national game of 
okwe is common to both sexes. 

Every Ibo man is familiar with the use of a gun. Prowess 
in the art of shooting is acquired, in the first instance, 
by practice with bows and arrows, but a young man will 
never rest until he becomes the owner of a firearm of 
some sort. Archery has practically degenerated into a hap- 
hazard pastime, however, and is but rarely relied upon in 
hunting or war. It provides recreation and amusement 
to the young men, especially during the slack seasons of 
the year. As a rule the bows do not measure more than 
three feet from point to point and are usually less. The 
bow-string is a finely cut strip from the tough outside of a 
creeper cane ; the arrows are proportionate in size and 
notched, not barbed. Competitions are held for small 
stakes of cowrie shells ; sometimes each man puts a certain 



number into the pool and the winner of the shoot takes 
the lot. At other times the successful man takes all the 
arrows of the bout, the eventual winner being the one who 
at the finish is the possessor of the most arrows. The 
target is a piece of the pithy stem of a koko leaf or banana 
tree. The winner of a set throws the target to a distance 
of some ten paces, and shooting follows immediately it 
touches the ground, the first man to pierce it becoming 
the winner in his turn, and so the competition repeats 
itself. I received great applause one afternoon on piercing 
the target at the first attempt, but was not to be persuaded 
to try again, otherwise the fluke would have been too ob- 
vious. The first time that I handled a bow, before I 
realised what had happened, my host's dog was yelping 
furiously and running around with the arrow sticking in 
its ribs. It was more frightened than hurt, but I lost no 
time in extracting the arrow all the same, and I was thank- 
ful my host had not been an eye-witness of the catastrophe. 
Arrows can be shot with tremendous force and will 
carry up to seventy or eighty yards. If feathered for the 
purpose, they can be made to drop and strike perpen- 
dicularly. But whilst this pastime affords some amuse- 
ment, the Ibo man must have a gun to be really happy ; 
in this he is the unconscious imitator of almost every 
white man he has ever seen. 

When I first came to the country there was an abun- 
dance of firearms of many patterns, from old tower guns 
to Snider rifles and American pistols. Arms of precision, 
i.e. any other than flintlock guns, are now prohibited, 
and great numbers have been called in and destroyed 
since British rule was established, and now the Ibo man 
must, perforce, be content with what he can get. He 
wanders through the " bush " with his fearsome weapon, 
a real source of danger to the owner himself. I have seen 
some ghastly accidents, the result of barrels bursting. 
Here I speak of men who are not professional hunters, 
but who habitually use their guns for protection or other 
purposes; Occasionally these men shoot small game, but 
they use their guns more frequently during festivities and 
especially for second burials. 

Guinea-fowl Dancers 

These are professional dancers. Round their ankles are clusters of shells. 


Wrestling is universal amongst boys and young men and 
it is a very popular sport. Every youth physically capable 
practises it and continues to do so up to the time of mar- 
riage. There are great yearly contests ; it is a purely 
amateur sport and there are no prizes. Each bout is 
complete in itself, the successful competitor being fully 
content merely to receive the plaudits of the crowd as an 
acknowledgment of his skill and strength. Yet it must be 
confessed, that though many of the "ikolobia" (athletes) 
are adept in the art, they manifest but little sporting 
instinct. They cannot take defeat with good grace. If 
a man has but an idea that he is likely to be worsted he 
refuses to wrestle. He will not engage in the sport after 
marriage on the ground that it is considered infra dig. to 
do so, but this is simply an excuse to cover up the fear 
of possible defeat ; the Ibo man has a wholesome 
dread of being taunted and ridiculed by his women-folk. 
He cannot endure disgrace and, therefore, after marriage, 
he becomes a sturdy advocate of the doctrine that " dis- 
cretion is the better part of valour." 

The lack of sportsmanship is noticeable also in the actual 
contests. A man may apparently be putting up a sound 
fight, when suddenly he releases his grip and retires. On 
asking the reason for his action he explains that he seemed 
to be making no headway and what purpose could there 
be in continuing the struggle ? In spite of these short- 
comings, however, some exciting wrestling may be seen 
and there are exhibitions of rare skill and endurance. 
Every part of the body is brought into play ; hands, legs 
and head. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the various 
schools of wrestling to be able to pronounce definitely 
what styles chiefly prevail amongst the Ibos, but should 
be inclined to class them generally as " Catch-as -catch- 
can." These styles are not all uniform, and the most 
thrilling bouts are those in which the competitors are from 
different localities, when the particular tricks and twists 
of each school have full scope. 

Prior to a contest the athletes go through a course of 
preparation, quite distinct, however, from training. 
Charms are purchased to aid them in the struggle, and 


" medicine " is applied externally and internally, the 
latter to endow them with extraordinary strength, the 
former to nullify the power of the adversary and render 
him incapable of retaining his grip. The charm must be 
secreted in the *'awgawdaw" (the rolled cloth girdle 
adopted by athletes), the sole article of clothing worn by 
the wrestlers. In the actual contest the rivals advance 
towards each other, smack their right hands together, 
and then retreat to the outskirts of the ring. From these 
points they begin to manoeuvre around each other, crouch- 
ing down until the hands touch the ground, but with heads 
well up and eyes fixed. These preliminary tactics remind 
one of leopards rather than men. Gradually the com- 
batants warm up to the fray and very soon they are 
dodging and feinting, twisting and turning at great speed, 
and some vigorous slapping of face and body is given 
and received. The main object, of course, is to gain a 
favourable opening and secure the advantage of first grip. 
Some are extremely agile and clever and their tactics are 
thrilling to witness. Often the opening stages are quite 
protracted and then, with dramatic suddenness, one man 
is lying on his back. His opponent has seized a favourable 
opportunity, rushed in, and with lightning speed has 
grasped leg or ankle and upset his opponent's equili- 
brium. When they come to grips the struggle is a severe 
test of strength and staying power. With arms inter- 
locked, legs rigid, and head pushing hard, they pull and 
twist and strain and pant. And oh ! the dust, the sweat, 
and the noise ! The onlookers shout their loudest to 
encourage their particular favourite, and it is intensely 
exciting until, at length, one competitor is pinned on his 
back to the ground, or, as often happens, the men 
separate, utterly exhausted, and the battle is a drawn one. 
There are no fancy rules regulating the contests — no 
limitations to the size of the ring — the spectators must 
move if necessary. Every kind of grip or hug or trick is 
admissible. The business is for one man to throw the 
other, and the lack of restrictions is equally fair to both 
men. The only stipulation is that they must wrestle, 
not fight or bite or scratch. 


Dancing is the great national pastime, and it is practised 
by everybody capable of movement. There are many 
forms — for boys, for girls, for men, for women and for 
mixed companies, the last being more especially associated 
with religious observances and festivals. It is the religious 
element which distinguishes the set forms of dancing 
from those which are the outcome of the emotions. 

The stereotyped set dances are all performed by pro- 
fessional men, and they are very elaborate and extra- 
ordinarily difficult and exhausting. The movements are 
perfectly rhythmic, and the time is set by music. The 
instruments are crude but effective. One youth grips 
in each hand a carafe-shaped calabash (awyaw) surrounded 
by flounces of cowrie shells, and these are rattled with 
methodical vigour, producing a sound not unlike the back- 
wash of waves on a shingly beach. Another youth hugs 
closely under his left arm a clay pot from ten to twelve 
inches in diameter. It has two holes, one at the top of the 
neck, the other in the side. To make music the performer 
beats sharply upon the mouth with the open palm of his 
right hand, the left hand, meanwhile, being passed back- 
wards and forwards over the side-hole. The effect is not 
unpleasant ; it is a sort of mellow booming sound which 
rises and falls as the side-hole is covered or left open. 
There may be wind instruments also, short reeds pierced 
with three holes for fingering ; these give highly pitched 
notes more like those of a piccolo. In addition there are 
drums — small and great — which are also capable of varia- 
tion in note by pressure of the left hand over different parts 
of the surface. 

The instrumentalists squat on the ground in no pre- 
scribed order, with neither programme nor conductor. 
Presently one of the musicians sounds a few desultory notes, 
which gradually evolve into a recognised melody, the 
others join in, and time and tune are thus established. 
The dancers range themselves and begin slow rhythmic 
movements, unconsciously swaying their heads in time 
with the music. As the dance proceeds they appear in- 
toxicated with the motion and the music, the speed in- 
creases, and the movements become more and more 


intricate and bewildering. The dancers work themselves 
into a veritable frenzy and the spectators keep silence 
from sheer excitement. The twistings, turnings, contor- 
tions and springing movements, executed in perfect 
time, are wonderful to behold. Movement succeeds move- 
ment in rapid succession, speed and force increasing, 
until the grand finale is reached. By this time the on- 
lookers, as well as the dancers, are almost breathless. 
Then, in a flash, music and dance cease abruptly, the 
performers remaining rigid in their last pose. For a 
second absolute silence prevails, followed by an outburst 
of applause. The effect of the sudden arrest of music 
and motion cannot be described ; it breaks upon one with 
such an unexpected shock. The dancers are streaming 
with perspiration and quite exhausted with their efforts. 
The sign for the dance to end is given by the chief drummer, 
the dancers themselves, naturally, having a pretty clear 
idea when to expect it. For these set dances, e.g. those 
executed by the " Guinea-fowl dancers," the physical 
strength required is tremendous. The body movements 
are extremely difficult and would probably kill a European. 
The whole anatomy of the performer appears to be in 
serious danger, and it is a marvel that his internal 
machinery is not completely thrown out of gear. The 
practice of such dancing leads to a wonderful develop- 
ment of the back and abdominal muscles. Moreover the 
movements are free, there is nothing rigid about them, 
and they produce no sign of " physical exerciser " stiffness. 
Every movement is clean, sure and decided, showing abso- 
lute control of the muscles. For some of the dances the 
performers wear clusters of shells around one or both 
ankles, and these are shaken simultaneously by all the 
members of the party. The precision with which this is 
done, and the execution of the many intricate figures, are 

The professional dancers are very well paid for their 
services, and when fulfilling an engagement are liberally 
entertained. The dances are not all uniform ; usually 
the displays of one town differ in character and move- 
ment from those of its neighbours. 


Of quite another type is the dancing connected with 
religious festivities, and particularly that in which women 
take a leading part. Such dancing is always the physical 
expression of joy and thanksgiving. It consists almost 
entirely of strange sinuous movements of the limbs and 
body. If these movements are the expressions of the 
primeval idea of dancing, then, to judge by the illustrated 
papers, a great deal of so-called dancing in England and 
America is merely a reversion to type. It would appear 
that the exponents of twentieth century dancing are 
engaged in a feeble imitation of the first. 

In all native dances each man (and woman) acts in- 
dependently of his fellows and yet fits into his proper 
place in the general scheme. When men and women are 
dancing in company they do not even touch hands. It is 
contrary to etiquette for a man to touch a woman, and 
any infringement of the rule may meet with stern rebuke. 
As a matter of fact each person becomes so completely 
absorbed in the dance that any interference would give 
rise to emphatic protest and annoyance. I have watched 
such dances and can testify to the extraordinary manner 
in which the dancers, for the time being, lose consciousness 
of their surroundings. One stands before them, and they 
give no sign of recognition ; one speaks, but there is no 
response other than a fixed stare. Only gradually do they 
become normal again. 

The dances are always held in the open air, but not 
always in a public place. Frequently they are held in the 
compound of a chief or other prominent man. In either 
case it is a hot and dusty pastime, and hence is invariably 
associated with heavy drinking. After joining in a few 
short figures at the beginning of the festival many of the 
old men find it difficult to rise from their seats of honour 
with any degree of steadiness. 

Some of the movements are peculiar, as when the lower 
limbs are kept perfectly rigid the feet are not lifted from 
the ground, but all progression is made by swaying the 
body only, and by sinuous movements. 

The pastime has a fascination of its own, and even the 
spectator finds it difficult to keep his feet and body from 


moving in sympathy with the dancers. As one watches 
the swaying figures, and listens to the rhythm of the music, 
one naturally responds. It is doubtful whether any native 
could resist the spell inwardly, whatever outward aspect 
he might assume — and this is no matter for surprise to 
those who have been present at such a dance. 

Swimming is one of the ordinary accomplishments of 
people living near the great waters ; many are very pro- 
ficient in the art, and are as happy in the water as out of 
it. The natives of some of the riverside towns seem per- 
fectly fearless and plunge into the stream regardless of its 
state, whether in flood or otherwise. The greatest excite- 
ment prevails when a steamer passes a village. The little 
" dug-outs " are instantly manned by boys and girls, 
untrammelled by garments, and they approach as near as 
they dare, on the look-out for empty tins and bottles. 
When any article is thrown from the steamer, the little 
canoers at once plunge into the water and race madly 
for it. Meantime the empty canoes drift down-stream 
until the steamer is out of reach, when with lusty trudgeon 
strokes the owners overtake them. A youngster grasps 
by the stern and, by a series of vigorous fore and aft 
movements, swishes out the water and tumbles in once 
more. One has seen boys in their eagerness to pick up 
treasures swim right into the steamer's line of progress, 
and then, as the vessel appears to overwhelm them, 
laughingly fend themselves off along the vessel's side 
and disappear in the swirl and foam set up by the revolu- 
tions of the stern wheel. One naturally thinks that that 
must be the end of them, but presently their heads pop 
up again twenty or thirty yards astern, the black water- 
babies having apparently quite enjoyed the extra excite- 
ment created by the steamer's wash. 

No account of the pastimes of the Ibos would be 
complete without a description of the game of okwe. 1 
Probably this remark applies to the whole of West 
Africa, as the game is almost, if not quite, universal. It 

1 The word " okwe " is derived from the name of the tree, the fruit 
of which supplies the seeds used as counters in the game. They resemble 
black marbles in size and appearance. 


is a recreation more in favour with the elder folk, the old 
men being particularly partial to it. 

In order to play the game counters and a properly 
prepared board are necessary. The board (ubaw-okwe) 
has two parallel rows of holes. The number of holes varies 
from ten to twenty per side and the boards are often 
nicely carved. Some of them are black and polished with 
long usage and are treasured as heirlooms. The players 
may be two, three or four, the opponents facing each other 
on opposite sides of the board. It is impossible, without 
taking up a huge amount of space, to write full directions 
for playing the game. Briefly, the procedure is as follows : 

Working always from left to right on the board the 
counters are distributed thus : — 

5 counters in each of the first 7 holes, on both sides. 

1 counter in each of the next 2 holes, on both sides. 

5 counters in the tenth hole on both sides. 

1 counter in the eleventh hole on both sides. 

The challenger always concedes first move. 

Player No. 1 immediately appropriates (lit : " eats ") 
all the counters in holes 8, 9, 10 and 11, as a sort of nucleus 
for his working capital. 

No 2 likewise appropriates a number, but in his case 
leaves the single counter in hole eleven, i.e. No. 1 is one 
counter to the good from the start. 

Players can begin where they like on the board but must 
take all — save one— of the counters from the hole selected, 
and these must be distributed singly along the row of holes 
until they are exhausted. The object is so to place the 
counters that the last one drops opposite a hole in which the 
opponent has one or three counters. If a player can do 
this he " eats " the one or three, i.e. he appropriates them. 
The object is to force one's opponent to move out his 
counters in such a way that he cannot save himself from 
the one and three traps. As soon as a player wishes he 
can replace his playing counters by redistributing his 
own working capital, but to do this he must drop in the 
counters singly, one for each hole, and if a surplus remains 
after passing down all the holes of the board then the pro- 
cess is repeated until all the " eaten " counters are once 


more in the game. It is astonishing how quickly a capable 
player can force his opponent into distributing his counters 
so as to bring about the existence of holes containing one 
or three. A clever player will calculate numbers and spaces 
at an extremely rapid rate ; a weak opponent is apt to lose 
his original thirty-five counters in an incredibly short 
time, which is either Very humbling or exasperating, 
according to temperament. A white man usually has no 
chance against a good native player. The game often 
leads to excessive gambling, some men accumulating 
large debts in this way. Resort is had to theft and other 
undesirable methods of raising funds to clear the debts. 
Some cases come into special prominence ; there may be 
quarrels and other disturbances arising out of the incident 
and then the chiefs have recourse to prohibition and so 
put an end to the evil — at least for a time. In the majority 
of the Mission Stations hockey and football have been 
introduced and bid fair to meet with success. The games 
are being taken up with enthusiasm and provide strenuous 
exercise for all who take part in them. Instead of spas- 
modic bursts of recreation the habit of regular exercise 
is being inculcated, and there is no doubt that it has proved 
beneficial to the health of those who play. It is also a 
useful agency for developing energy, self-control, inde- 
pendence and all those virtues which we English ascribe 
to the practice of athletics, and which, therefore, need no 
mention here. A boy is a boy whether in England or West 
Africa, and what applies to one nationality applies very 
much to the other in the sphere of sports and pastimes. 



Of the capacity of the Ibo for work there can be no doubt. 
He has sufficient latent ability and physical strength to 
undertake any task allotted to him. On the other hand, 
he is of an impatient temperament, lacks determination 
and perseverance, and is more or less untrustworthy. As in 
games so in work, unless matters proceed entirely to his 
satisfaction, the Ibo man becomes hopelessly depressed 
and quickly gives up in despair. Trying until success 
rewards persistency is not an inherited trait. 

In his old natural state no serious demand was ever 
made upon his strength of purpose whether in work, 
recreation or war. The ordinary avocations of both men 
and women demand little energy and force of character. 
Their requirements were few and easily supplied without 
undue strain upon time or powers. Food and a hut for 
shelter are the only necessaries in this country ; all other 
things must be classed as luxuries to the native in his 
normal state. Whether any, or many such luxuries are 
accumulated depends chiefly on the man himself. Some 
remain content with bare necessities, others strive for the 
outward signs of affluence, and acquire various quaint 
and curious treasures. The number of such articles which 
the ordinary man acquires and the value he attaches to 
them is in proportion to the amount of extra work he is 
prepared to perform beyond that which is essential for the 
maintenance of himself and his dependents. 

The first necessity of man being food, the Ibo seeks in a 
perfunctory manner to secure what may be required, and 
hence we meet with the three primitive occupations of 
farming, fishing and hunting. Though the soil is very poor 



in places, nature is fairly bountiful on the whole, and the 
only cultivation seriously undertaken is that of yams. 
Whilst preparing to set seed yams the opportunity is 
seized to sow maize in between them. The women cultivate 
quantities of edde (koko) together with cassava, beans 
and gourds; in some parts millet and ground nuts are 
grown also. Deep-water fishing by line or net and 
hunting are the work of men ; fish trapping is practised 
by both sexes. 

The staple food of the country is yam, and to the 
cultivation of this vegetable every man must apply him- 
self either in person or by employing others. This is what 
is commonly called " farming " in the Ibo country, but the 
term is liable to misinterpretation as it does not correspond 
to the orthodox meaning of the word ; the term ought not 
to be employed to designate the primitive hoe-work of the 
Ibo. It is true there are a few cattle of a pygmy breed but 
they are in no sense " farmed " — nor even milked. They 
have a certain property value and are guarded for that 
reason only. Goats and fowls and the few sheep fend for 
themselves ; they likewise are not farmed and the stocks 
remain as they have been for generations. 

The native, then, is an agriculturist and that of the 
simplest type. His solitary implement is the hoe, and this 
is the universal tool for work on the land. It varies in size 
according to district, that on the western side of the river 
being much smaller than the pattern in use on the eastern 
side. The blade is wrought from bar iron, and is fixed into a 
stout elbow-shaped handle and manipulated similarly to 
an adze. The ground is prepared with the hoe which, for 
its purpose, is superior to the spade, both as regards the 
quality of the work done, and the speed with which the 
soil is turned. Give a native a spade and he instinctively 
grips the stem of the handle with both hands and drives 
it hoe-fashion. The farm is usually situated outside 
the town, and not infrequently lies at a considerable 
distance away. In this case the men usually build little 
booths at the beginning of the season wherein to camp and 
thus save the long tramp to and fro daily. The yam and 
the yam supply being so important, more particular 


attention is given to the subject in the succeeding 

Wherever the fish of a stream are not under taboo as 
sacred objects, men living in the vicinity follow the pro- 
fession of fishermen. Many methods are in use for netting 
and trapping fish, and there is an enormous demand for 
smoke-cured fish as a relish for palm oil soup. This article 
of diet practically serves in lieu of flesh-food, the meat 
supply of the country being totally inadequate to meet 
the demand ; it is forthcoming only for occasional feasts. 

In the Niger and its larger tributaries netting is largely 
employed for catching fish. The nets are worked from 
canoes, or from towers, or by wading. The first and 
second are novel methods, whilst the third is a primitive 
use of the seine. For canoe work quiet water must be 
sought, i.e. out of the direct flow of the current, and two 
men are essential. A shallow net of woven cane (ekwe), 
in length corresponding to the straight part of the canoe 
side, and in width from six to nine feet, is lashed to the 
upper edge of the canoe in such a manner that its outer 
beam is just awash when the canoe is balanced by the men 
to an even keel. When travelling it is hoisted just clear 
of the water. 

A likely spot having been selected the two men stand 
in the canoe, one at either end, release the net and allow it 
to sink to the requisite depth, the balance of the canoe 
being controlled by the distribution of their own weight. 
To haul the net the men stand on the opposite gunwale 
and throw their weight back, at the same time hauling on 
the beam, thus bringing the net to the surface, the process 
being repeated at the fishermen's pleasure. The chief 
purpose for which this method is employed is to catch a 
fish called ellem which resembles whitebait. Occasionally 
larger fish are caught, but not often, as the net is too shallow 
and the raising is much too slow to catch larger fish. 

Fishing from a tower is another familiar method. To- 
wards the close of the hot season a row of stout stakes 
are driven into the dry river-bed — the row being at right 
angles to the bank and extending from thirty to forty 
feet. To these stakes a net is lashed Very similar in con- 


struction to, but deeper and more commodious altogether 
than, the one used with canoes as described above. On 
the actual bank of the river a tower is built of rough timber, 
running up to a height of from twenty to thirty feet. 
At the top is a tiny platform which is protected with a 
roof of thatch. As soon as the waters rise sufficiently to 
cover the net, the fisherman takes up his position on the 
platform ; it is somewhat cramped but he manages to 
contrive a small fire and endeavours to make himself as 
cosy as circumstances permit. A long rope of twisted 
creeper stretches from his lofty perch to the net and with 
this, at regular intervals, he hoists the net to the surface. 
His companion, who is encamped at the base of the tower, 
answers to his call, and should fish appear in the net, it is 
the business of this co-worker to scramble along the stakes 
and bring in the catch. Between the haulings he can 
find occupation in smoke-curing the fish. 

The seine method scarcely needs description other than 
to mention that it is very primitive, except in those 
localities where foreign nets have made their appearance. 
The native production is worked from sandbanks, aided 
by canoes. The net is taken out by the canoes, sunk, and 
then hauled ashore by the ends. Owing to its great 
weight, it being also woven from cane, it is never very 
long and is a very crude affair in comparison with an 
English-made cotton net. 

Women weave large ball-like contrivances of yarn 
tendrils, which resemble huge bird nests, and fix them in 
the banks of streams. They are baited and lure many 
prawns to destruction. 

In some of the lakes fish-traps are built stretching out 
from the banks. They are constructed of stakes driven 
in close together with an opening left for prowling fish to 
enter. Fish swim in when the water is high and then, 
as the water recedes later, are easily secured. 

Neat little snares called " iko " are made of light wicker- 
work and placed in fish runs. All other ways being blocked 
the fish swim through the mouth of the trap and find that 
they can neither go forward nor return ; they simply wait 
till the owner of the snare comes along and bags them. 


They are extracted by releasing the draw-string at the 
pointed head of the trap, this action permitting the head 
to expand to the full circumference of the body of the 

Hook-and-line fishing is practised in most waters, more 
especially in neighbourhoods where foreign hooks can be 
purchased. The hooks of native manufacture are too crude 
to catch anything but the most guileless of fish. The line 
may be attached to a rod, or tied to a stump, or a calabash 
may be used as a buoy. A baited hook, with a length of 
line, is attached to a calabash, and this is thrown into the 
water and allowed to drift, the fisherman meanwhile 
paddling his canoe at leisure. The sinking of the calabash 
indicates the hooking of a fish, and all the fisherman has 
to do is to hover round until the calabash reappears. By 
that time the fish is probably dead from exhaustion or 
nearly so. In land-locked waters the calabash system 
can be practised with little trouble. Night-lines are also 
regularly set for fish. 

In back waters particularly, though the practice is often 
employed in running streams, poisoning is freely resorted 
to in order to obtain fish. The flowers and leaves of the 
iwelli plant are bruised and scattered upon the surface 
of the water; they have an anaesthetic effect upon the 
fish, and after a short interval all those in the poisoned 
area will float belly upwards, at first only stupefied, but 
very soon quite dead. 

By the end of the rains great tracts of country are under 
water, and fish naturally retreat into the quieter waters 
away from the swirling currents. Moreover, as the waters 
spread over ground covered with trees and dense under- 
growth, the fish have a royal time, feeding on grubs and 
other forms of insect life. But when the waters recede 
great numbers are cut off from the stream, and are trapped 
in land-locked pools. The natives know these spots ; 
further, they block the mouths of small streams by barri- 
cades of stakes, and thus prevent fish from returning to 
the rivers. In due season fish drives are organised or 
recourse is had to poisoning ; in any case great quantities 
of fish are taken annually in this manner. 


The European fisherman will, of course, attempt to 
follow his own methods, or adapt them to local conditions. 
For big fish, spinning is a recognised style of angling, but 
I have found it so troublesome that, except in certain 
waters, it is wiser to leave this method alone. In lakes 
and in cleared rivers it may meet with success but the 
waters are so full of trees and other debris, that it is prac- 
tically impossible to spin. The same may be said of fly- 
fishing. One cannot wade, and the bush is so dense about 
the banks that there is scarcely room to raise the rod, 
certainly not enough elbow-room to cast. Better work 
can be done if a canoe is available with a paddler endowed 
with sense — it is very difficult to convince a native that 
one is sane and sober when one tries fly-fishing. The 
special difficulty is with the line ; dressed lines become 
very sticky, whereas undressed lines absorb water so freely 
that they soon get too heavy for casting properly. Sole- 
skin minnows thrown as flies, and budding cassava leaves 
have proved the best attractions in my experiences of this 
mode of fishing. As far as my experience proves the best 
sport is obtained from simple bottom fishing — or ledgering, 
using as bait the gut of fowls or lob-worms dug out from 
near the water's edge. The common worm (idide) is 
an extraordinary freak. It cannot be used for fishing, 
inasmuch as directly it is handled it has a tantalising 
habit of falling into tiny sections and even if, after con- 
siderable trouble, you succeed in threading one, either the 
water will wash it off, or small fry nibbling around will 
speedily leave the hook clean. Some fish give a fair amount 
of play and are very good eating ; some are hard pullers, 
especially the scaleless kind, that lie in the deeps ; these 
have tapering bodies, large flat heads, and most ugly 
mouths furnished with two or more whiskers. 

The manatee * flourishes in certain waters and its 

1 Manatus senegalensis, or seal-cow, of the Sirenian family, an ar- 
breathing and vegetarian animal. It has no teeth in the front of the jaws 
but has a good set of grinders. It is a slow, sluggish creature and quite 
unhappy out of water. It prefers quiet, shallow water. It has but one 
calf at a time, and this the mother is said to hold under her fore-flipper, the 
teats being situated just behind the arm-pits. — The Wild Beasts oj the 
World, Frank Finn. 

THE 1B0 AT WORK 148 

capture might reasonably be included under fishing. This 
quaint dark-skinned animal attains to a length of five feet 
and more. It lows like a cow and gambols in the water. 
In the district with which I am most acquainted, it is 
usually trapped. The traps (nkwu) consist of stout stakes 
placed near the bank, or in a patch of weed favoured by 
the beast as food. Immediately it has passed through the 
entrance, it displaces a catch and the door of the trap 
falls ; the animal is thus imprisoned and is dispatched with 
spears. No woman may look upon the carcase until the 
tail and flappers have been removed. The flesh is highly 
prized, and the thick leathery hide off the back is cut into 
tapering square strips, which are then twisted into spiral 
form and allowed to harden. When hard-set the strips are 
used as canes ; they are of dull-amber colour but are 
greatly improved by polishing. Sometimes they are split 
up for two-thirds of their length and made into switches, 
which, in capable hands, can be used with most enlivening 
effect. The underpart of the animal is not skinned ; the 
skin of this part is eaten with the flesh. It is soft and the 
natives liken it to the creamy contents of a young coco-nut. 

There are several legends connected with the manatee. 
One is to the effect that when a man gets into difficulties 
in deep water, the beast tickles him under the arm, thus 
causing him to laugh ; the result is that he opens his mouth 
and is drowned. 

Hunting proper is confined to comparatively few men, 
and except in special circumstances the hunter's equip- 
ment is limited to trap and flint-lock. For some years past 
a man here and there, at certain riverside stations, has 
wrought great execution amongst hippopotami, buffalo 
and buck, with a modern rifle. Egrets and marabouts have 
also been ruthlessly slaughtered for their feathers; but 
in the hinterland the native hunter must depend upon his 
old flintlock and his stalking powers. Such a hunter is 
easily recognised by his gun and bag. The former is long 
in barrel, of the pattern seen in museums and military 
tournament pageants. Over the flint and striker is a 
cowl of untanned skin — on the western side of the Niger 
a piece of chimpanzee skin is preferred to all other kinds. 


Encircling the stock is a daubed mass resembling pitch ; 
really it consists of cords bound round the stock which 
have been so frequently smeared with the blood of victims 
that they have become a congealed mass — black with 
exposure, and polished by continual handling. As each 
bird or animal is slain, the blood is offered to the gun 
in token of success. A hunter's prowess can be calculated 
by the amount of congealed blood deposited on the stock 
of his gun. Common black powder is used, and the slugs 
are manufactured by local smiths from bar iron ; or what 
is termed " pot-leg " is used, i.e. old cast-iron cooking 
pots broken into pieces. The flint comes from the old- 
world village of Brandon, on the borders of Norfolk and 
Suffolk, where the knappers ply their ancient trade, some 
of their handiwork finding a ready sale at the " kwulu 
awtaw" market at Ubulu, a large centre of trade with a 
flourishing market held every sixteenth day. 

The hunter wears nothing but the scantiest of girdles. 
He needs to be untrammelled in his movements in order 
to wriggle his way through jungle, grass and scrub. Nor 
must he grudge a lavish expenditure of time and strength. 
He must not be particularly fastidious about weather nor 
indeed allow any circumstance, however uncomfortable, 
to interfere with his profession. Scratches must be treated 
with indifference as he traverses the hunting ground, 
and clothes are impossible in his work. His knowledge of 
woodcraft generally develops into a sort of instinct, and he 
hears and sees game long before the European is aware of 
its vicinity. Good hunters imitate the calls of birds and 
beasts, and by this means are often successful in attracting 
game within reach of their gun. Unfortunately they have 
wrought great execution amongst the animals and birds, 
and their efforts have been so persistent that game is 
exceedingly scarce. The native hunter being able to adapt 
himself to the conditions of the country enjoys better 
sport than the white man. Buck, large monkeys, and 
occasionally a bush cow or leopard are brought in. For the 
last, traps are preferred to a gun, the hunter being in 
dangerous plight if he does not kill with his one shot. 
Traps are built with logs ; some are oblong in shape with 

Fine Specimens of Young Manhood 

The Ibos are capable of great endurance, but quickly lose heart. 


a falling door, others with simply a falling log heavy enough 
to pin down, if not break the back of the unfortunate 
brute. The customary bait is a dog or young kid. The 
flesh of every species of animal and. bird is stock for the 
pot, but the skins of the buck and leopard family are the 
only pelts preserved. 

The killing of a leopard is a red-letter day in a hunter's 
life. On accomplishing the deed, he cuts off the tail and 
feet as trophies. The carcase is taken to the house of the 
chief, who formally waves it as a thankoffering before his 
alusi (idols). The chief presents a fowl to the hunter as a 
token of congratulation. These ceremonies over, the town 
is paraded, the carcase being carried round in procession, 
the slayer bearing the tail in his hand amidst the plaudits 
of the crowd, and being greeted with the salutation of 
" leopard-slayer." When these perambulations cease the 
beast is skinned, and the chief receives his portion, viz. 
one leg ; the remainder is disposed of at the hunter's 
pleasure. The teeth and claws always fetch a good price 
for ornamenting necklaces. 

Elephants are now rarely killed in the Ibo country, 
though the older men can remember the days when they 
were fairly numerous. Whilst travelling in the Asaba 
hinterland in 1900, one of the leaders of our party carried 
an elephant's ear, chiefly as a symbol of his profession 
and prowess. When convenient he used it as a fan or seat 

The hunter haG his own particular fetishes, whose aid is 
invoked prior to undertaking any trip, and due acknow- 
ledgment is made to them for a safe return, and especially 
if the expedition has been successful. The skulls of the 
animals slain are preserved and hung in the hut of the 
hunter. Here we see primitive instinct manifesting itself 
in a desire to display trophies of the chase ; the same 
passion for the evidence of man's slaying propensities which 
dominates the owner of the manor house and baronial 
hall, the only difference being that whereas the native 
hangs up the crude skull, undressed by any process of 
taxidermy, the civilized hunter has his specimens em- 
bellished — each according to the resources at his command. 


The native hunter can also relate stories of the chase, 
and dilate upon adventures in the recesses of the forest ; 
of monsters encountered and hair-breadth escapes, especi- 
ally from gigantic buffaloes and pythons. 

Man-hunting had its recognised place in the Ibo hunter's 
profession, and a stranger encountered during the hunter's 
travels was stalked and shot as a wild animal would be. 
Indeed, regular expeditions used to be organised for this 
purpose, and the man-killer was duly proclaimed a hero 
similarly to the leopard-slayer. In this case, a limb of the 
victim was carried in procession round the town and the 
hunter received congratulations from cheering crowds. 
An instance of this barbarous custom occurred within a 
few miles of Onitsha as recently as 1906. 



The cultivation of yams absorbs such a great proportion 
of time and energy that it deserves appropriate attention 
when writing about the occupations of the Ibos. To be 
deprived of yam creates a condition of acute distress. 
Whatever substitute may be offered it cannot satisfy the 
native's desire for his favourite food. Yam is not indi- 
genous to the country — tradition says it was introduced 
by the Portuguese. There are many varieties, which differ 
greatly in size, appearance and flavour, also as regards the 
soil they require for successful growth ; but the method of 
cultivation is practically the same for all. Any native can 
reel off a list of from ten to twenty varieties, and can dilate 
upon the soil suitable for the production of each. The yam 
is a tuber ; as a foodstuff, and as an agricultural product, 
it is equivalent to the potato in Ireland. To ensure good 
crops the location of the " farm " must be changed at 
frequent intervals — generally after two or three successive 
plantings. The necessity for such changes arises chiefly 
from the fact that no dressing for the soil is procurable, 
other than a poor supply of leaves and grass, hence the 
soil must be allowed to lie fallow in order to recover its 
fertility. In most parts of the country fresh ground can 
be arranged for without difficulty as the area at the dis- 
posal of the people is ample for the purpose. 

The site of the farm having been chosen it receives a 
rough clearing. The smaller trees are cut down to the 
stumps, and the larger ones lopped unmercifully, and the 
whole of the debris is burnt, but no roots are grubbed up. 
The soil is earthed up into circular mounds on the higher 
levels, but into large oblong beds in swampy districts. 



The depth is regulated according to the size of yam under 
cultivation. A foot high is sufficient for certain varieties, 
whereas others require twice that depth and a full square 
yard is worked up to form each mound. One seed-yam is 
set in each mound, the best crops being raised from whole 
seed, but where economy has to be studied the tuber may 
be cut into sections. 

The planting of the yam is a serious and important 
business to the native, and under the old system of govern- 
ment any infringement of the farming etiquette led to 
grave consequences. Yam stealing— whether of freshly 
planted seed or the mature root — was punishable by death. 
In spite of the extreme risk farms were sometimes raided. 
Since the introduction of English criminal law this sort of 
robbery has increased greatly, as the penalties now do not 
inspire sufficient fear. The risk comes, of course, when the 
thief is discovered red-handed at his nefarious work on the 
farm. In such circumstances it may result in tragedy, for 
the thief, or the detector may be rendered hors de combat. 
The thief will fight for life, and one has seen cases where 
most desperate consequences have followed the surprising 
of a thief in a yam farm. On one occasion a woman was 
brought to the Mission House in a horribly mutilated 
condition after an encounter with a thief in her farm. 
At the time of the setting of the seed it is no uncommon 
incident to be aroused in the early morning by the wails 
of some unfortunate person whose farm has been raided 
during the night. I have seen a man labour diligently 
for weeks preparing a farm, and then every seed yam was 
stolen in a single night, the thief though unaided by light 
having done his work extremely neatly, unearthing each 
buried yam with unerring precision. To prevent their 
seed from being stolen in this manner some men sleep on 
their farms during the early part of the season, and again 
as harvest time approaches. 

I remember one case in which a boy planted a farm. 
Shortly afterwards he had to go away on a short visit. 
During his absence a woman came in with a basket of 
seed-yams ; she poured out a long story to the effect that 
her farm had been raided, and that she had traced the foot- 


prints of the thief, and found that they led to the lad's 
farm; she had, therefore, dug up the seed planted there 
declaring that they were the identical yams stolen from 
her own farm. I kept the basket until the lad's return 
and then conducted an investigation. The case was decided 
by examination of the seed yams ; without hesitation 
the witnesses declared the yams had been cut by a man : 
a woman would have cut them differently. It was a 
mystery how this fact could be discerned with such in- 
dubitable precision. Then a man stepped forward and 
picked out certain yams from the basket and said, " I 
gave the lad these yams." How he recognised the yams 
again is a further matter of wonder, except it be on the 
analogy of the huntsman distinguishing his hounds, a feat 
which invariably astonishes the casual spectator. The 
evidence being overwhelming, the woman was declared 
guilty of yam stealing. She ought, by native law, to have 
suffered the extreme penalty, but that did not commend 
itself; instead she was let off on agreeing to replant the 
lad's farm, and on her husband paying him ten shillings 
compensation for the attempt to defame his character. 

A flourishing yam farm bears a strong resemblance to a 
Kentish hopfield. The vines need support, and for this 
purpose sticks are provided. The tendency, in the early 
stages of growth, is for the tendrils to run up the supports 
too rapidly, and they must frequently be unwound and set 
back to a lower level. Certain kinds, grown more for 
specimen roots and ornamental foliage than for use, need 
poles from twelve to fifteen feet long, or strings stretched 
from the ground to branches of tall trees. Up these the 
yams climb, and when in full leaf present a very pleasing 
and picturesque aspect. 

The largest and earliest variety (ji abi) is grown either 
actually in the bed of a stream or on the lowest part of the 
banks in the rich vegetable deposits left by the floods of the 
previous wet season. Here the growth is extremely rapid 
and progress can be fostered by regular watering from the 
neighbouring stream. The yams need to be ready for 
lifting by the time the waters begin to rise ; they cannot, 
however, be left to ripen. These yams grow to an immense 


size ; often they measure two feet or more in length by from 
five to seven inches in diameter. They are always the first 
in the market and meet with a ready sale. They are 
unsuitable for storage, as they have to be dug up before 
they have the chance to dry, and they correspond to the 
early potatoes in England. In substance they are of softer 
consistency and more watery, and also whiter than yams 
grown on drier ground. 

Though there is a great rush to buy these early yams, 
the native greatly prefers the more substantial varieties 
gathered in at the close of the season. Moreover, a too 
free use of ji abi is liable to lead to stomach troubles. 
The main crop is not dug up till the middle of October or 
later, i.e. when they have completely dried and are fully 

After sticking the young yam plants the soil around the 
roots must be earthed up, and during the early torrential 
downpours this work is frequently necessary. Weeds 
flourish in most extraordinary fashion and constant labour 
is required to keep them under. This is mostly done by 
the women, who use small semi-circular hoes — a simple 
bow-shaped piece of iron with a handle at each end worked 
in the same way as a spokeshave. 

The place of the yam in the political economy of the 
country presents a study of no little interest. Land needs 
to be fairly rich and extensive in area for the raising of 
large crops. Where the soil is poor, as in parts of the Awka 
district, it is a moot question whether sufficient yams 
could be raised locally to supply the needs of the population. 
Of agricultural products, serving as the staple food of a 
people, the yam must be classed as one of the most ex- 
travagant. In comparison with the yield, the production 
of yam entails a large acreage, strenuous labour and con- 
stant attention during some seven or eight months of the 
year. Were it not for intermediate crops of maize and 
beans, and a subsequent catch-crop of cassava, it is 
doubtful whether yam would repay cultivation. 

Each seed yam planted produces two of its kind — one 


fit for food, the second, a tiny one which is the seed for 
the ensuing year. Seed yams are also specially raised by 
two methods. When the yams are at all fit for food, i.e. 
before they are ripe, they may be dug up as required. 
The sap being still fresh in the foliage the bulbs of the 
tendrils are replanted, and by the end of the season a 
small seed yam is formed. The second method is to cut up 
larger yams into small sections and plant them ; in this 
way good stock seed yam may be raised in readiness for 
the following season. The occupation of the country by 
the British, and the extraordinarily rapid opening up and 
development of hitherto closed districts, have brought 
about changes which have quite upset the equilibrium 
of the yam market. Prior to the influx into the 
country of a multitude of non-farming aliens, the yam 
supply, eked out by the use of cassava, maize and 
koko (edde), was equal to the needs of the natives. Each 
household raised its own crops by its own labour, and 
could, should circumstances be adverse, make itself com- 
pletely independent of outside sources of food supply. 
There were a few exceptions to this general rule, the town 
of Awka furnishing one such instance. Here the men are 
all blacksmiths, and agriculture is considered infra dig. 
Their business is moreover, a lucrative one, and the Awka 
men rely upon their ability to purchase food for their 
households, which, hitherto, they have found little diffi- 
culty in doing. 

But with the ever-spreading development of the country 
this primitive state of things is being upset and the pro- 
blem of a native food supply is becoming acute in centres 
like Onitsha, where the population is steadily increasing. 
The native agriculturist, with the conservative instincts 
of his forefathers, continues to cultivate solely for the 
needs of his dependents, and only here and there are to be 
found men who realise that there is a ready market for 
yams under the new conditions. The number of Europeans 
has grown tremendously during the last decade, and behind 
them comes a host of coast -born native immigrants who 
flock into the country and take up positions as clerks and 
traders. In addition there are hundreds of local natives 


who are employed by these foreigners as servants, labourers 
and artizans — all of whom have practically forsaken 
agriculture as a means of livelihood, and who now rely 
upon being able to purchase their food supply. The 
consequence is that the quantity of yams available is quite 
inadequate and recourse must be had to imported provi- 

There is another aspect to the study of yam cultiva- 
tion. Not only does it make exorbitant claims on land, 
labour and time, but, when brought to perfection, the yam 
appears to be singularly deficient in nutritive properties. 
A man expects to eat from four to ten yams per diem, and 
thus even a small household will consume an enormous 
number in a week. In the case of ji abi the number is 
much less, of course, as they are of great size, but, on the 
other hand, they are only in season for a very brief period. 
If the supply be less, a man speaks of himself as being in a 
state of hunger, and he invariably answers any enquiry 
concerning his health by, " Very well, only for hunger." 
Pounded yam disappears at an astonishing rate, it being 
swallowed wholesale, without mastication, and a person 
must needs eat a very generous allowance to sustain his 
physical powers. To retain his strength a man has to 
make up in quantity for what is lacking in quality, and 
an Ibo vegetarian diet is the reverse of attractive. 

With the suppression of inter-tribal warfare, slave 
raiding, infanticide and other depopulating customs, the 
establishment of pacific government and the introduction 
of sanitary laws, the indigenous natives will increase 
much more rapidly than heretofore. With the improve- 
ments in the state of the country resulting from these 
measures, the expansion of trade, and the widening 
of Government control, more and more foreigners will 
enter the country. The consequent increase in the popu- 
lation will necessitate a corresponding increase in the food 
supply. The immediate effect has been to create a de- 
mand which cannot be met from the existing local re- 
sources, and prices have advanced in ratio at least 100% 
since the Government assumed direct administration of the 
country in 1900. Were it not for the importation of rice, 

Climbing a Palm-Tree for Nuts and Wine 

A rope composed of twisted creepers encircles the trunk and the body of the climber, and by 
a series of jerks it is raised a foot or more at a time, the weight of the man's body preventing it 
from slipping. The rapidity with which these climbers literally " walk " up a palm-tree is marvellous. 
The large knife is for the purpose of severing the bunches of nuts. 


biscuits, dried fish and preserved provisions generally, 
famine and distress would have been sorely felt by many, 
especially during the last few years. It goes without 
saying, that this introduction of foreign food is another 
of the host of sins laid to the missionaries' charge; one 
more denationalising factor for which, no doubt, they will 
be accounted responsible. 

For augmenting the supply of both food and drink, 
the natives living in important centres are beginning to 
rely very largely upon the trading canteens. This is 
inevitable, partly because of the scarcity of native grown 
products, but quite as much for economic reasons, the 
foreign commodities often being cheaper than the local 
supplies, particularly so at certain seasons of the year, 
when yam is at a prohibitive price, a single root fetching 
as much as sixpence or more in the open market. On the 
eastern side of the Niger, the conditions are much worse 
than on the western, the soil being less fertile while the 
demand is greater. 

The repeal of the " Native House Ordinance " (as from 
January 1st, 1915), magnificent in its conception, and in 
true accord with British principles of liberty, and ultimately 
tending to the uplifting of the Ibo nation, will, neverthe- 
less, raise further complications in the matter of the yam 
supply. Hitherto chiefs and other wealthy men have relied 
solely upon their slaves to till the ground. No wages were 
paid, but the slaves were granted every fourth day for their 
own affairs. It follows that a man's agricultural operations 
need only be limited by the acreage and the number of 
labourers at his disposal, and some rich men planted 
huge tracts of land. Even in these circumstances, with 
unpaid labour, we have seen that yams have appreciated 
in value to an extraordinary degree during recent years. 
What is the situation likely to be with the introduction of 
paid labour ? As soon as there is an exodus from the 
" Houses " many chiefs will cease to farm on a large scale, 
and probably, in many cases, will themselves be reduced 
to straitened circumstances. The introduction of such 
a sweeping reform cannot be accomplished without creat- 
ing difficulties, entailing, in some cases, heavy financial 


loss. There is every hope, however, that in the course of a 
few years, when the liberated slaves find their feet, many 
will become agriculturists and relieve the pressure, but 
meanwhile the economic problems are going to be more 
pronounced as a result of the repeal of the ordinance. 

Successful yam cultivation requires a distinctive method 
of earthing up the soil, and this fact rather points to the 
improbability of any great agricultural reforms being 
introduced into the country so long as yam growing is the 
paramount industry. Ploughing would not answer, even 
were it possible. With no draught animals available the 
plough could not be adopted for general use ; it might 
find its place in maize growing if motor-driven ? As a 
matter of fact it seems highly probable that the primitive 
hoe will never be displaced for yam-farming purposes, 
and there is no doubt that the implement is peculiarly 
suitable and very effective in the hands of the native. 

The future of agriculture in the section of Southern 
Nigeria under review provides scope for thought. It 
may follow a line of development in which certain crops 
will gain favour at the expense of others. Produce for 
which there is a good foreign market, such as palm oil, 
copra, maize, cocoa and cotton, may prove more profitable 
to the agriculturist than yam growing. In the place of 
yam the natives will purchase rice, biscuits, fish and other 
commodities. By these means the prosperity of both 
the import and export departments of commercial activity 
will be increased. 



Tee palm trees indigenous to the Ibo country are blessings 
of inestimable value. Every part of them can be used — 
timber, leaves, sap and fruit. From the trunk the favourite 
timber for building is obtained, the leaves are used for 
thatching, the stem yields copious supplies of palm wine, 
and the fruit is not only good for food but it is also a very 
profitable source of income. 

No attempt is here made to write scientifically upon the 
subject of palms, and nothing will be stated beyond what 
any ordinary man might observe. 

There are many species of palms, but we shall confine 
our remarks to the more common and important varieties 
which figure so largely in the daily life of the people. By 
far the most abundant, and withal, the most valuable, is 
the oil-palm (Eloeis guineensis), which flourishes over 
almost the whole of the Ibo country in greater or less degree 
according to locality. In certain parts palms rear their 
lofty heads in the richest profusion, whereas in other 
districts they are comparatively few and are limited to such 
as are grown within the precincts of the villages. 

One cannot describe the Ibo's method of cultivating 
the oil-palm, because he has none. All that can be said is 
that no native will deliberately destroy a palm, except 
where thinning out is essential for the good of the trees. 
At the same time he will not exert himself, or put himself 
to any inconvenience, in order to save a palm tree from 
destruction. All the oil palms spring from self-sown seed. 
Thousands of seedlings shoot forth their upright spikes of 
leaves, and great numbers are trampled underfoot or 
destroyed in the furious bush fires which rage towards the 



close of the dry season. This, of course, accounts for the 
fact that the choicest trees are in the vicinity of the houses, 
where they escape burnings, and also receive the benefit 
of the compound sweepings. The kernels from which the 
seedlings spring have fallen from over-ripe bunches of nuts, 
or have been cast out as refuse. Those found in the bush 
grow mostly from the seed scattered by parrots and other 
birds. No attention is bestowed upon the tree until it 
begins to bear fruit. This occurs as soon as the crown 
of the palm is matured, beginning when it is about a foot 
above ground level. The nuts grow in dense clusters close 
to the stem of the tree, at the base of the fronds, and are 
like bunches of jet until they ripen, when they gradually 
change to yellow and bright red, leaving only a small part 
black at the top of the nut. 

Every oil-palm is owned by somebody ; the trees can be 
sold as they stand, but when land is transferred by pur- 
chase all oil-palms go with it, they are accounted as part and 
parcel with the plot ; but coco-nut palms are not included 
in the transaction ; these remain the property of the man 
who planted them, and they cannot be interfered with 
without the sanction of the original owner or his successors. 
A man may be merely farming a piece of land, or he may 
actually be dwelling upon it and working portions of it, 
but such occupation does not necessarily imply rights of 
ownership over any coco-nut palms standing upon it. 

From the time that the crown of the oil-palm reaches 
maturity the fronds (igu) are regularly lopped off, usually 
in most ruthless fashion, leaving but two or three unde- 
veloped fronds standing upright out of the crown of the 
tree. The welfare of the palm is not considered by the 
native when lopping it ; he wants the fronds for Various 
purposes and he takes them. In the farming season the 
goats must be kept in the compound, and immense quan- 
tities of palm leaves are then consumed by the animals. 

The trunks of the trees are grey and black in colour, and 
extremely rough through regular lopping and continuous 
tapping for palm wine. At intervals up the trunk, ferns 
and parasitic plants find root-hold and flourish luxuriantly, 
adding much to the picturesqueness of the tree. The 


crown of the palm, whence the fronds spring, is a large 
bowl-shaped growth, out of which, between the stumps 
of the fronds, the fruit forms. 

The trunk of the tree is composed wholly of fibre and can 
scarcely be described as timber. At the root the fibres are 
separate and distinct, and they spread out into a stringy 
mass some two or three feet above the surface of the 
ground. The trees are not firmly rooted and, but for the 
springiness of the trunk tissue, would be easily uprooted. 
As it is the tornadoes often wreak considerable havoc 
amongst them and not infrequently the crowns are snapped 
off by the sudden gusts of wind. When once the trees are 
established, the bush fires appear to inflict no permanent 
or serious damage ; indeed, the natives maintain that they 
derive benefit from the ordeal. The dry refuse collected 
in the crown of the palm is ignited by tufts of wind-driven 
burning grass, and this continues to burn until it is all 
consumed. For the time being the tree is black and 
blasted, but in a very short time it puts forth fresh green 

When the nuts are ripe the bunch is sometimes allowed 
to fall, but it is preferable to cut it whilst the nuts are still 
attached. For this purpose professional climbers are 
employed. There are two common methods followed 
by these men, one requiring a single climbing rope, the 
other two ; for the former method some stout live creeper- 
canes are selected and these are plaited into a rope from 
eight to ten feet in length. The central part is heavily 
sheathed with grass carefully bound on, thus increasing 
the diameter to three or four inches. This precaution is 
taken to prevent chafing the rope itself, and further, which 
is equally important, the extra size enables the craftsman 
to slide the rope more readily up and down the rough sur- 
face of the trunk ; the larger it is the less liable it is to jam 
in a notch. When about to climb, the man encircles 
himself and the trunk with his rope and firmly knots the 
two ends. Slipping his matchet into his girdle, or carrying 
it between his chin and shoulder, he grasps the rope firmly 
with both hands, throwing his whole weight back upon it. 
Then, assuming an angle of about 45° he proceeds to walk 


up the trunk, throwing his rope higher as he ascends by 
jerking it upward about two feet at a time. To execute 
the movement he must press his feet firmly against the 
tree and keep his legs rigid. He then pulls himself forward 
with his hands and, for a second, takes the strain off the 
rope, at the same time sliding it up the trunk before he 
drops back into the reclining position. Although each act 
is separate and distinct, yet so rapidly is the whole carried 
out that it appears to be one movement. The top of the 
tree is reached in a very short time, and there the climber 
maintains his position by stiffening his legs and pressing 
backwards on the rope. He fchus has the free use of his 
hands and he proceeds to cut nuts or branches as re- 
quired, working round and round the crown of the palm 
until his task is accomplished. 

The double rope method is quite different. It is more 
intricate and it looks more dangerous also. The two ropes 
are about five feet in length with looped ends. The climber 
casts one rope round the tree, threads one loop through 
the other and pulls it just taut enough to prevent it from 
slipping. He then passes his left leg through the dangling 
loop as far as the middle of the thigh. The second rope is 
treated likewise, but is placed some eighteen inches lower 
down the trunk than the first, and instead of the right 
leg being passed through, the sole of the foot presses upon 
the loop. Whilst climbing up and down the weight is 
changed alternately from one rope to the other, each being 
slipped higher or lower in turn. It is obvious that greater 
balancing power is demanded for this second method. 
The man must assume a more or less upright position, 
always pressing backward with his foot and leg to keep the 
loops from slipping. He is necessarily brought closer to 
the trunk of the tree, and consequently the scope for 
arm play is much more restricted. 

Occasionally the rope breaks or slips, or the climber 
misses his grip, and the result is always horribly painful, 
if not fatal. The man makes a desperate effort to throw 
his arms round the tree ; he may save himself from an 
actual fall and yet be unable to check his descent before 
he has slipped a considerable way down the trunk. The 


rough sharp projections tear the climber's flesh in a par- 
ticularly agonising manner. He may, of course, lose his 
hold altogether and fall to the ground, which is still more 
disastrous ; one has had to practise rough surgery in order 
to alleviate suffering, and generally to patch up some who 
have been unfortunate enough to meet with mishaps of 
this kind. I was once converting an ancient and rusty 
fangbolt into a woodscrew, and, thinking that it had 
reversed clear of the die, I grasped the screw to release it 
from the revolving head of the machine, a simple operation. 
But it had not passed clear, and the rough edges carved 
spirals in the flesh of my hand. When a man slips down 
a palm tree he receives a series of gashes of a somewhat 
similar type, only in a greatly magnified degree and, 
moreover, the whole front of his legs, body, hands and 
arms suffer. One's whole sympathy naturally is aroused 
for the victim of such a merciless " screwing " process. 

The oil-palm is put to many uses by the native, of which 
only the principal need be mentioned. For house-building 
purposes the trunks of the trees are split and the parts 
serve for rafters, cross-beams and wall-plates, but only as a 
last resort for posts. The wood rots quickly and also 
suffers greatly from the depredations of those unmitigated 
pests — the termites, more commonly known as white ants. 
The fibres of the trunk are woven into fish traps ; when 
finely drawn they are manufactured into very good sub- 
stitutes for banjo strings ; they are also plaited into cord. 
The leaves (fronds) are in great demand for protecting the 
clay compound walls ; they are laid lengthwise, between 
supporting pegs, on the top, and are excellent for throwing 
off the heavy downpours of rain. They are also used as 
fodder for goats. 

After the green parts are removed the bones (as one of 
the boys aptly described them) of the leaves are converted 
into very efficient little brooms. These uses are common 
to all the oil- palms, but for wine and fruit the value of the 
different species varies greatly. Of these the natives have 
distinguishing names for three, viz. awsukwa, okpoloko 
and ojukwu. If a tree be exceptionally prolific in nuts, 
yielding good oil, it receives a courtesy title such as 


nne-nkwu (mother of palms) in acknowledgment. Some 
trees produce nuts of magnificent appearance but which 
are mostly kernel and hence of little profit ; such are the 
ok-poloko. Others yield oil in abundance irrespective of 
size and appearance, and these are styled awsukwu. The 
ojukwu is not a large producer, but its oil is bright red in 
colour and is highly valued by the people. 

There is one other palm which it is of interest to note, 
viz. the one called oke-nkwu (the male palm). No fruit 
is ever found upon it ; it merely produces a cluster of 
flowers which dry up and remain on the tree for a consider- 
able time. From these particular trees, tapped immedi- 
ately beneath the bunch of flowers, is extracted the most 
powerful palm wine, known as " up-wine." It is " up " 
in two respects : it comes from the top part of the tree and 
it is more liable to get " up " into the consumer's head ! 

It is the men's business to cut down the nuts and the 
women's duty to extract the oil. The bunches are de- 
posited in a corner and left for a few days, after which 
they are readily stripped from the large pear-shaped 
stalk (obwe-akwu) upon which they cluster in a compact 
mass. The nuts are thereupon placed in a mortar for 
pounding. This implement is made from a section of hard- 
wood tree, hollowed out, and fixed vertically in the ground. 
The leading man only of the clan owns a mortar, and it is 
usually fixed just outside the front door of his compound, 
convenient for the use of the villagers. The nuts are 
vigorously pounded, an operation in which the young men 
will often render assistance, until the kernel has been 
entirely stripped of its fleshly covering. The whole mass is 
then carried down to the stream ; a hole is scooped out in 
the bank and filled with water, into which the pounded 
nuts are cast. The women keep the water on the stir and 
gradually the kernels and fibrous matter are disintegrated ; 
the oil rises to the surface and is skimmed off. It is a 
smelly, unattractive process, but to fishermen the vicinity 
of a palm oil wash-hole is always worth giving a trial. 

This is the method adopted by the folk eastward of 
Onitsha, but it is not favoured by the people of that town 
nor on the western side of the Niger. In these districts, 


i. Town Deities, Adonta, near Awgwash 

2. A Medicine Man, with his Stock-in-Tkade 


after stripping, the nuts are first boiled in large iron pots. 
Then they are pounded and the oil is squeezed out by hand 
pressure. The refuse may be reboiled and the final drops 
of oil skimmed off. This strict economy is rarely prac- 
tised, however, as the refuse is utilised as fuel. The ashes 
(ngu) from this fuel are used in the manufacture of native 
soap ; they are dissolved in water for medicinal purposes, 
or again, they are especially prized for boiling with bread- 
fruit or beans. 

As an article of diet the oil is preferred in its liquid state. 
If it has not been boiled, it sets as hard as butter in a few 
days. Many traders will accept, nowadays, liquid oil only, 
i.e. boiled oil. This is a precaution against adulteration. 
The^ West African needs no instruction in that art ; he 
was not incapable of mixing a good proportion of sand with 
the oil so long as the trader would buy it in solidified form ; 
the native is an expert in the subtleties of trade. 

The natives retain as much oil as they need for house- 
hold use as food, lamp oil and for the manufacture of soap 
and other purposes, and, where there is a market for it, 
dispose of the rest. In the districts tapped by the trading 
companies immense quantities are brought in by the 
people, and exchanged for cash, trade goods, or the in- 
evitable gin. 

The nuts (commonly termed kernels) are dried and sold 
separately, a few only being retained by the women. Those 
that are kept are cracked and the kernels fried for a con- 
siderable time, in order to extract the oil. This particular 
oil is in demand for anointing the body, and hairdressing ; 
it has a certain brilliance which is much appreciated by 
the natives. They are also partial to chewing the kernels 
as a relish with corn and dried cassava. In normal nuts 
there is one kernel only, but occasionally one will be found 
which divides into two or three sections. In such cases 
one person must eat all ; should they be shared those 
guilty of the foolish act will later become the parents of 
twins, a most undesirable issue. Double kernels are, in 
consequence, usually preserved and used as " medicine.'* 

Palm wine is drawn from the palms and varies in sweet- 
ness and strength according to the species of tree selected. 


The most common method for extracting the sap is by 
tapping the standing tree near the crown, but at one time 
many trees were felled solely to provide wine quickly. 
This custom was much more prevalent on the western than 
on the eastern side of the Niger, where the palms are not 
in such abundance as to permit of this wanton destruction. 
By far the greatest proportion of the wine supply comes 
from the ngwaw palms ; these flourish in marshy localities 
only. The fruit is of no use except for providing seed, but 
the leaves are valuable for the manufacture of " bamboo 
mats " — an excellent thatching material. The " bamboo " 
poles serve as rafters and laths to which the thatching 
mats are tied. The ngwaw plantations furnish huge quan- 
tities of wine. In appearance, and in taste, it resembles 
the old-fashioned stone bottle ginger-beer ; it is pleasant 
to drink and very refreshing. The strictest teetotaller 
may drink freely of this without experiencing undue 
excitement. There are natives who will not touch this 
ngwaw wine. In some cases an embargo against its use 
is laid upon a man by the dibia who, after consultation, 
declares this to be the will of the ju-ju. Such a person 
will never attempt to drink palm wine, nor will he even be 
tempted to break the solemn injunction laid upon him ; 
the consequence of trifling with the commands of the 
ju-ju is far too serious. Old men frankly despise ngwaw 
wine as being too weak and fit only for women and children ; 
they have to continue drinking so long before they feel that 
they are making any headway. 

The wine procured from the oil-palm is much stronger ; 
it is likewise extracted by tapping. This is classed as 
nkwu-enu (up-wine). It is quite different in taste from 
the ngwaw and has a more powerful effect upon the 
drinker, especially if he be at no pains to restrain his 
appetite. It quickly ferments and becomes more vinegary 
than ever, and is then extremely unpleasant to Europeans. 
It is never wasted, however, by the old men ; if it gets 
beyond even their powers, it is mixed with the new supply. 
One is bound to admit that there is, on the whole, very 
little drunkenness from palm wine drinking. This is pro- 
bably accounted for by the fact that the suppliers do not 


hesitate to dilute their stocks very liberally with water. 
This again applies more particularly to the eastern side 
of the Niger. On the western side where the trees are in 
greater abundance, there is not the same inducement 
to, or necessity for, adulteration. 

In many parts, notably in towns like Onitsha, palm 
wine is being rapidly superseded by foreign drinks. One is 
almost invariably offered whisky, gin or some other im- 
ported liquor nowadays. 

The trees are tapped by driving in a sharp chisel. 
Beneath the hole thus pierced a calabash is hung, the wine 
being conducted into it by means of a funnel made with 
a leaf or a reed (ami). The collector visits his trees night 
and morning, emptying the calabashes and retrapping as 
he considers advisable. 

There is another species of palm which flourishes freely 
in certain localities, generally where the soil is inclined to 
be poor and stony. The native name is " ubili." The foliage 
is extremely graceful, each frond springing up on a long 
stem and then opening out fanwise. The divisions of the 
leaves are webbed for about half their length and then 
separate into individual spikes. The fruit is not unlike 
a large orange in appearance and has a very hard kernel. 
It is consumed by the natives, but it is by no means a 
popular article of diet. The chief value of this tree lies 
in the wood, which is eagerly sought after for house-building 
purposes, the posts, wall-plates, and any part coming in 
contact with the clay walls, being of ubili whenever 
possible. The leaves are cleverly plaited into fans, baskets, 
mats and the like. 

Finally there is the coco-nut, which, though not indi- 
genous, is widely distributed over the country. We have 
already noted that every coco-nut palm is the property 
of the man who planted it, wherever it may stand. The 
slender, graceful trunk often develops a leaning tendency, 
in contrast with the more stocky oil-palm. It grows to a 
great height, and the blossom, springing from the crown, is 
a pronounced feature. The fruit is in season all the year 
round ; the timber of this palm also is in great request for 
building purposes. A great many nuts are cut down whilst 


the kernel is in the creamy stage ; they are gathered solely 
for the sake of the refreshing liquid they contain. The 
quantity of milk yielded by some of the fresh green nuts 
is extraordinary. It must be used without long delay as 
the unripe nuts spoil quickly. The ordinary nuts are 
eaten, not exactly as a recognised foodstuff, but rather 
chewed as something pleasant to the palate. In famine 
time they are eaten as a relish with dry corn. The eating 
of coco -nut is also one of the signs of mourning. In one 
town I visit from time to time, the coco-nut is taboo in 
every farm, and no native will touch it. I had the greatest 
difficulty in purchasing one or two when travelling in that 
neighbourhood. It is the more remarkable inasmuch as 
there are no water-springs thereabouts, and the natives 
are forced to rely for water largely on the impure and 
limited supplies stored in catchpits. The natives extract 
oil from the ripe nuts chiefly for the purpose of anointing 
their bodies. The copra industry, I understand, does not 
pay around Onitsha, though it has better prospects in other 

When nuts are required the boys readily climb the 
trees, clasping the trunk with their hands, doubling their 
bodies and then walking up on their feet. The tallest trees 
are climbed in this manner without the slightest hesita- 
tion or fear. It will now be obvious that no trees could be 
more generally useful to the native than the various 
species of palms which grow, more or less abundantly, 
throughout the length and breadth of the Ibo country. 



The arts and crafts of the Ibo manifest themselves first 
in his home. The ideas and tastes of both husband and 
wife are indicated by the care bestowed in the building and 
decoration of the house. The styles are many ; the 
materials are practically alike for all. Every man can be 
(and usually is) his own architect and builder, and, with 
the aid of relatives and friends, constructs such a house 
as he considers suitable or as circumstances permit. The 
walls are always composed of clay of terra-cotta colour. 
About the middle of the wet season clay puddling begins, 
an occupation which though simple is strenuous, and 
demands care to ensure the best results. Somewhere on 
the building site a hole is dug, all the loamy top soil being 
thrown aside, and the red clay subsoil exposed. This clay 
is broken up into clods with hoes and left in readiness 
until the next fall of rain, which is conducted into the pit 
through channels cut for the purpose. After a shower 
young men go down into the hole and puddle the loosened 
clay with their feet, more and more being added, or more 
water being thrown into the mixture as required, to bring 
it to a proper consistency. This is tiring work as the clay 
pulls heavily on the feet. When prepared the clay is 
thrown out, and at the close of the day's work the heap 
is well covered with banana leaves or grass to protect it 
from rain and sun. The task is repeated at intervals 
throughout the wet season, or until a sufficient quantity 
of clay is ready for the proposed building. Meantime 
the superfluous water drains away from the heap of clay, 
and the mass is greatly improved by this mellowing 



With the advent of the dry season the builders bestir 
themselves, and on working days the site is alive with a 
company of busy men and boys. The native seldom 
troubles to peg out the lines of his house ; he opens out 
foundations simply by rule-of -thumb methods. He makes 
no calculations either as to materials or finances ; he 
simply starts, and then proceeds as long as the where- 
withal is forthcoming. Should plans fail he waits for 
better times, and then continues the work. 

The footings are from six to twelve inches in depth and 
about a foot in width, and upon these he raises the clay 
walls, but these do not carry the roof; that is always 
independent of the walls. 

The now stiffened clay is pulled off in lumps, the size 
of a football, kneaded together, and carried by the boys 
to the builder, who flops them into position and rams them 
with his fist, at the same time roughly trimming the sides 
with his hands. A complete course all round is laid, some 
eighteen inches in height, and work ceases for the day. 
In a few days the sun has hardened the clay sufficiently 
for a second course to be added, and so it goes on until the 
walls are of the required height. Before the clay is quite 
hard, and when it is in sound condition for trimming, 
the walls are straightened with a sharp matchet. They are 
much benefited if well rubbed with water at this time, 
and all interstices plugged ; the best clay (upa) opens out 
in large cracks as it is drained of liquid. 

It sometimes happens that a man is not prepared to go 
to the expense and trouble of such sound walls ; he also 
wants them erected quickly, and he then has recourse to 
the Ibo jerry-builder, but a clever man for all that. There 
are experts in dry-wall building. These men use hoes and 
matchets and a sprinkling of water only. The soil is loosened 
in a straight line and this is piled, rammed first with a foot, 
and finally trimmed and beaten hard with wooden beaters, 
the face of the wall being occasionally moistened with 
water sprayed on with the mouth. It is surprising what 
a quantity of water some of these ekwe builders can hold 
in the mouth and how clever they are at spraying it. 
Frequently good builders will erect quite a long wall in 


the course of a day. After wet rubbing it is sufficiently 
substantial for ordinary buildings and, up to six feet in 
height, if protected from the most severe of the torrential 
downpours, will be serviceable for many years. Such a 
building must always be tapered in structure, the base 
being much wider than the top. 

For the roof, centre and side posts are fixed, either in 
the ground clear of the walls, or more usually buried in 
the walls. A very common course is to erect the framework 
of the roof first and then make the walls fit it. The rafters 
are of offolaw (palm-fronds stripped of their leaves) ; 
the laths are of the same material but smaller in size. 
When these have been lashed into position the roof is 
ready for the thatch. This may be of palm leaf, termed 
" bamboo mats," (akanya or atani) tied on in regular 
courses like slates, or a grass thatch made somewhat 
roughly in sections on the grouncj, and then fastened 
on in overlapping rows, as seen at Onitsha ; or it may be a 
really superior style of thatch, as adopted in the eastern 
districts. In the last case great pains are taken and a very 
thick and heavy covering of grass is bound on, necessitat- 
ing an enormous number of rafters and laths, placed almost 
side by side, and stout timbers to carry the excessive 
weight. For these roofs the underside is finished off in a 
special manner with cleverly plaited string work (palm 
fibre). Such a roof will last a generation and corresponds 
very closely with the old English style of straw thatching. 
On the western side of the Niger huge leaves are used as 
substitutes for grass ; the leaves of the ume being most 
in evidence. Those obtained from the ibwodo are pre- 
ferred by the people but they are not so easily procured, 
this tree being rather scarce. The leaves are simply 
fastened on the roof -frame by their stalks. 

The thatching is finished off with a thick layer of grass 
bound across the ridge, and over the corner angles should 
the roof be hipped. 

A house constructed in this manner, if due care be taken, 
may be a veritable work of art. Not a nail is driven, the 
lighter framework being maintained in position solely by 
lashings of " tie-tie (ekwe)." This building material comes 


from certain climbing plants, and is used whole for parts 
subject to heavy strain, and split for the lighter work. 
When bamboo mats are chosen for thatching they are 
tied with fine tie-tie or young palm leaves (awmu) prepared 
for the purpose by being passed rapidly through fire. 
Such a roof is peculiarly suitable to the country. The 
non-rigidity of the structure and the springiness of the 
materials employed secure for it great wind-resisting 
qualities. There is no restriction as to length for a house 
built on native principles, but the width is arbitrarily 
limited, and the rafters must be steeply pitched to ensure 
the roof being watertight. To extend beyond a given 
width leads to sagging of the thatch, a fatal weakness 
which quickly renders the roof non-weatherproof. 

The great drawback to houses thatched with palm leaf 
mats is the unceasing need of repairs, due to the extra- 
ordinary rapidity with which the materials perish. Where 
fires are continually burning the resinous smoke from 
the wood fuel proves a Very serviceable preservative of the 
bamboo mats which then remain in a sound condition for 
a comparatively lengthened period. 

Houses built by natives of local materials for occupation 
by Europeans are not to be despised, and those who have 
had experience of them often prefer them to the corrugated- 
iron roofed type. But in the European's house the volumes 
of smoke ascending from the fire on the floor are absent, 
and hence the thatch soon shows the devastating effects 
of boring insects and dry rot, or, what is infinitely worse, 
of white ants. Thus Europeans are wont, upon closer 
acquaintance, to lose their first affection for native-built 
houses, as for many other picturesque things. The roofs 
harbour mosquitoes and unnumbered insects of all sorts 
and sizes ; they also shed dust and bits of broken thatch. 
They are always low, in order to resist wind pressure, 
and the rooms are consequently dark and depressing. 
The constant repairs become wearisome, and especially 
in these latter days when there is increasing difficulty in 
purchasing bamboo mats and other materials. These 
bamboo mats are manufactured from the leaves of the 
ngwaw palm. Two long narrow strips, pulled off the out- 







side of the midrib of a palm branch, are laid upon the 
ground parallel to one another some six inches apart. 
A single leaf, so held that the stalk end projects a 
couple of inches beyond the lower strip, is then folded 
over the upper strip and pressed down flat, the glossy 
top side of the leaf being kept uppermost. Each leaf 
is pinned in three places with splinters of wood, one 
immediately below the upper strip, and the other two 
above and below the lower strip. Each leaf must be at- 
tached separately and must be fixed parallel with its 
fellows. When complete the mats may be from two to 
four feet in length. On casual inspection they appear 
to have a covering capacity of one foot in depth, multi- 
plied by the length, but when actually used the width is 
limited to from four to six inches — the more they overlap 
the better if a thoroughly sound thatch is desired. 

Allied to the builder's craft is the art of the decorator, 
and in this there is distinct scope for the expression of 
individual taste. It assumes the forms of modelling in 
relief on prominent parts of the clay walls, and working 
out flat designs in colours. Some of the clay mouldings 
are quite clever both in design and execution. The patterns 
are roughed out with a knife and smoothed off with the 
fingers, followed by a course of wet rubbing and polishing. 
A well-modelled wall is very effective ; this work is allotted 
to the men. Designing in colours belongs to the women's 
department, being included in the domestic occupation of 
rubbing the house. (Vide Chap. VIII.) 

The next big effect is concentrated upon the entrance to 
the compound. Chiefs and rich men like to fill in a long 
section of the front wall with a door and panels of uroko- 
wood, decorated with chip carving. The panels and the 
doors are literally chopped out of solid logs of timber. 
Butt ends are left projecting at the top and bottom of 
one side of the doors, and these fit into holes, one in the 
threshold and one in the lintel and serve as hinges. 

On the face of the front wall rude drawings of fantastic 
figures may sometimes be observed ; perhaps simply a 
series of strokes, or possibly rough outlines representing 
crocodiles and other strange creatures, I have questioned 


many natives about these in order to find out whether 
such marks possess any significance, but my inquiries 
have, without a single exception, met with a negative 
answer. The only wall marks to which any meaning is 
attached are the splashes of " medicine " sprinkled on with 
the native equivalent of the " bunch of hyssop." 

The medicine itself is contained in a pot standing just 
inside the doorway, and the proper procedure for each 
visitor is to lift out the bunch of twigs and sprinkle the 
liquid (generally an evil-smelling concoction) across his 
feet. The sprinkling of the medicine upon the wall is part 
of the ceremony of protecting the house and its inmates 
from disease and the attentions of malignant spirits. 
The plain drawings, whether mere strokes or more defined 
outlines, are, as a rule, the productions of boys who 
exercise their propensity for such amusements exactly as 
children in England find pleasure in chalking figures on a 

Carving is a skilled occupation and is confined to pro- 
fessional men. Their tools are crudeness itself, and yet 
they turn out some neat handiwork, by no means lacking 
in artistic merit. Besides the chip-carved doors and panels 
already noticed, these men manufacture stools, ju-jus, 
dancing masks, and kola and snuff-boxes. The stools, upon 
which a real Value is set, are carved out of solid blocks of 
uroko-wood and may be round or oblong. Some very good 
ones are produced solely for the use of chiefs, and no 
ordinary native will offend by attempting to sit upon one. 
The seat is supported on a single pillar which divides 
at the base into three or four curved feet. Other stools 
have fancy patterns worked out beneath the seat. The 
ju-jus consist mostly of the god " ikenga," the chief idol in 
every house. There are also town idols, and every Govern- 
ment Court House is furnished with a special ju-ju for 
swearing purposes, of hideous and revolting aspect ; fear- 
some objects to behold but as ineffective as they are ugly ; 
subjects of amused contempt to the native. No oath taken 
on or before such monstrosities is considered binding, 
nor do they serve in any way to elicit the truth and nothing 
but the truth. The native never accepts the invocation 


rites for such a ju-ju as genuine and binding, but, more 
important still, the oath of a native is never really effectual 
unless he swears on his own fetish. Their main interest 
is to demonstrate the ability of natives in carving figures 
in wood, many of them being nearly life size. The Court 
ju-jus usually represent a man sitting upon a stool : in 
his right hand he holds a drawn sword, and in the left a 
victim's head. 1 When the figure is new it is embellished 
richly with yellow, black, white and purple stains; these 
however quickly fade, or are hidden under an accumulation 
of dust. A large ju-ju is a conspicuous object of native art 
in a Government Court House. It scarcely merits com- 
mendation as an ornament, but it excels as a dust trap. 

The dancing or "devil" masks are also carved from a 
single piece of wood, including all the wonderful decora- 
tions which adorn them. The wood used, aron or ebwu, is 
very soft and breaks easily. They are made in many styles, 
some are faces only, others are complete heads, but quite 
plain, whilst others again are covered with a gorgeous 
array of carved birds and animals, and many tower up in a 
series of tiers to a height of three or four feet. Although 
crude, and usually horribly ugly, they display considerable 
skill, and the carving is a long and tedious business. One 
feature is noticeable, viz. that the artist paints all these 
carved faces white — never black. 2 The nose is represented 
as being long, straight, and very narrow ; the mouth is 
small, with thin lips, and the teeth are also small. The 
masks bear a striking resemblance to the cast of features 
noticeable in ancient Egyptian sculpture. 

Tom-toms, or drums (ekwe) are the work of specialists. 
Some of these are monumental examples of patience and 
industry. More will be said of these in another chapter. 

Probably the craft which is the most useful and valuable 
is that of the blacksmith. It is very remunerative, the 
more so because it is practised by natives of certain towns 
only, and these are able to control affairs almost as effec- 
tively as a Trade Union, and yet leave every man inde- 
pendent. The Awka smiths practically dominate the 

1 Really a magnified "ikenga." 

2 White, because all ghosts or spirits are supposed to be that colour. 



situation, and they hold the leading place in the profession 
throughout the Ibo country and in many places beyond. 
They travel to such distant parts as Bonny, Calabar, Warri 
and even Lagos, plying their craft. About two-thirds of 
the year are spent away from their homes. In this work 
also, great skill is often displayed, especially when the tools 
used are taken into consideration. The outfit is primeval ; 
it consists of a block of wood, fixed in the ground, into which 
is driven a round iron head, about one and a half inches 
in diameter, which serves as anvil ; the hammer is simply 

a piece of iron from twelve to fifteen inches in length and 
about the same diameter as the anvil. One or two pairs of 
tongs complete the outfit. The bellows consist of a goat- 
skin fitted into a clay continuation long enough to reach 
the centre of the fire. They are manipulated by a boy 
pumping up and down with two sticks which he works 
alternately ; the fuel used is charcoal prepared from the 
roots of the iceku (araba) shrub. 

An apprentice serves as a blower for a certain period, 
and after watching his master at his trade, usually begins 
to practise by making small chains. For this, odd bits of 
brass can be used up ; they are beaten out into fine wire 



and then fashioned into links. These chains are much in 
demand amongst the young bloods of some towns ; they 
are bound tightly round the legs from the ankle upwards, 
the length varying according to the purse of the wearer. 
The chains are bound very tightly upon the leg, which 
must be harmful, and they are certainly not ornamental. 
The art of welding must be mastered in order to join up 
brass rods into the spiral leg ornaments (nza) worn by 
unmarried girls. For the massive brass anklets ordinary 
bar brass is used and each anklet is beaten out of a single 
piece. The metal is softened by being treated until it is 
red-hot and it is then laid aside to cool gradually, the 
process being repeated several times. When sufficiently 
tractable it is again made red-hot and the smith begins to 
beat out the edges until he has brought the metal down to 
the proper thinness, i.e. about one-eighth of an inch. By 
that time it is a four-angled shape thus : — 


It is now ready for the final bending and the ends are 
brought round until they overlap, and a complete circle 
is formed. Upon the upper side patterns of flying frogs, 
and other creatures are pricked out with a punch and the 
anklets finished off by being highly burnished. Much 
technical ability is required in forging these anklets, and a 
well-made pair will always command a good price. In 
my early days a pair could be purchased for 15s. With the 
influx of Europeans the price (to them only) was inflated 
to £3, but latterly the tendency has been towards a fall 


in prices and they may now be obtained at from 25s. per 
pair. (Vide Chap. VIII.) 

At one time I followed a regular practice of visiting some 
of the tiny blacksmiths' shops and saw some clever work 
done. On one occasion my visit turned out to be one of 
those apparently unimportant events which often turn 
the tide of affairs. I was able to show the smith a simple 
device whereby he was relieved of the task of gripping 
his tongs throughout the time his metal was heating. We 
were in a town never previously visited by Europeans and 
this little incident did much to establish friendly relations 
with the people. I had strayed from the party and, seeing 
the smith's shop, I entered and sat down to watch. A 
crowd gathered round and were greatly interested when 
we started working together, and the confidence of the 
folk was won. In return for the professional hint received, 
the blacksmith there and then took a piece of an old cutlass 
and forged it into an armlet. He duly chased it with a 
punched pattern and presented it to me. I then watched 
him making needles ; fine work with such clumsy tools. 

In another shop I saw a smith make all the essential 
parts of the lock of a gun. He manufactured his own 
taps and dies from pieces of old cutlasses. In this instance, 
indeed, the man had made every part of the gun except 
the barrel, the stock and fittings being so well executed 
that one could scarcely distinguish the result from an 
English-made article. I inquired whether he could con- 
struct a gun completely, and he replied that he could as far 
as the forging was concerned, but that he knew no method 
for tempering the barrel, and therefore it was no use his 
making that part. In any case it could never be anything 
but a failure, as the only material at his disposal was the 
ordinary trade bar-iron. 

It is for their skill in repairing guns that the smiths are 
welcomed in all parts of the country. They are quite 
capable of converting old flintlocks into cap-guns, and, as 
long as caps are procurable, men were constantly purchas- 
ing the old flintlocks at the factories, and then getting 
them converted. This work was a source of great profit 
to the smiths, and they stand to lose considerably under 


the changed condition of affairs brought about by the 
restrictions placed upon the importation of ammunition. 

The smith referred to made me a pair of brass tobacco 
pipes. The bowls were moulded to represent the faces of 
men, and were furnished, one with a wood, the other with 
an iron mouthpiece. Whether a native could venture to 
smoke a pipe which had an iron mouthpiece I have never 
ascertained ; up to the present these particular pipes retain 
their original virginity. 

Chiefs, as they attain to the higher degrees, receive the 
right to carry the insignia of their rank. This takes the 
form of an iron staff, ornamented with wrought and brass 
bindings ; occasionally the whole staff is of brass. These 
are also the outcome of the blacksmiths' craft. 

The smiths forge door furniture, chains, hair ornaments 
for women, brass and copper bracelets and anklets. A 
copper bracelet in my possession is the sole remaining 
relic of one who prepared many meals for us, but who, alas, 
shortly after passing on the ornament to me, mysteriously 
disappeared, and was generally reckoned to have been 
himself cooked and eaten. 

In the early days of European occupation, bronze money 
was not acceptable to the natives, and they were ready to 
exchange four pennies for a threepenny piece. Copper 
pennies in Nigeria are undoubtedly " filthy lucre," with 
an emphasis on the adjective ; they are soon coated with 
palm oil, vegetarian and other objectionable substances. 
The only men who wanted pennies were smiths, and these 
came occasionally to exchange silver for coppers ; these 
were afterwards converted into ornaments. 

In addition to objects of personal adornment, purchas- 
able only by people of means, the smiths manufacture 
great quantities of hoes and axes. Practically every person 
is supplied with the former and most households possess 
one at least of the latter. The axes are wedge-shaped, the 
top passing through the head of a wooden club-shaped 
handle ; with it and a cutlass most of the native wood- 
craft is executed. The blacksmiths also make bullets 
from bar-iron, pot-leg, or from remnants of brass of 
different shapes, square, oblong and round. 


In the blacksmiths' profession there is an intensely rigid 
system of " Trade Unionism," and any attempt to usurp 
the privileges of the Awka men was obstinately resisted, 
even unto war. Our early days at Awka were spent amidst 
scenes of constant strife, and numbers lost their lives in 
the struggle to maintain the supremacy of the Union. 
This was especially the case when certain other tribesmen 
began to engage in the work ; they were regarded as 
interlopers who were attempting to wrest the trade from 
the regular craftsmen, and the ensuing conflict was only 
brought to a conclusion by the intervention of the Govern- 

Smiths' work in the old days was undoubtedly the pre- 
mier industry in the country, and it is not surprising that 
its interests were so jealously guarded. However, de- 
nationalisation in this respect must inevitably follow the 
introduction of Birmingham and other hardware goods. 
Hinges, locks, tools, and all sorts of useful articles are now 
sold at the factories at prices which must compete seriously 
with locally produced articles ; also with the widening 
of civilising influences, the old cumbersome and unwieldly 
brass anklets must be abandoned. English saws are rapidly 
displacing the wasteful native axe for cutting planks and 
joists, and the same principle of change is operating in 
almost every craft. 

Puddling Clay preparatory to House Building 

A Blacksmith at Work 



Certain of the arts and crafts are in the hands of the 
women. The chief of these are pottery making, spinning, 
weaving, basket work and grass plaiting and, specially, 
freehand drawing on the person by means of stains. 
Earthen pottery is manufactured by women skilled in the 
art, dwelling here and there throughout the country. The 
pottery is limited to vessels designed for utilitarian pur- 
poses. Some of it indicates a faculty for decoration, but 
it is not developed to any great extent. The clay is dug, 
puddled, and is then ready for the potter. The greatest 
demand is naturally for water-pots ; these may be of any 
size, but those in common use are from fifteen to eighteen 
inches in height and about the same in diameter. The 
ware is rubbed down until it is less than one quarter of an 
inch in thickness. The pots are used exclusively almost 
for fetching water, and, on the eastern side of the Niger, 
for steeping raw cassava roots. There is also a fair demand 
for pots of decanter shape for the collection and storing 
of palm wine. These may be plain or decorated, all 
black or of terra-cotta colour, relieved with white. The 
white markings soon perish as they are applied after 
baking. Other vessels are manufactured, such as bowls 
and cooking pots, the former being, perhaps, the best 
finished of all the pottery, and the latter the most primi- 
tive and inartistic. Some of the bowls are of good work- 
manship, being moulded in relief and finished outside 
with black polish and inside with beautifully rubbed terra- 

All the pottery is burnt directly by fire ; it is not baked 
in ovens or kilns. The process is a very simple one, the 
m 177 


women burning the pots at any spot convenient to them- 
selves, sometimes right in the middle of the footway. A 
quantity of dry grass and sticks is spread on the ground 
and a layer of pots placed upon it ; more fuel is added and 
then more pots, until the whole collection is in position. 
The grass is then fired and burns fiercely at the outset ; 
the residue retains great heat for some time so that when 
the ashes have begun to cool the pots are ready. They 
are as brittle as eggshells and require but a tap to break 
them, yet though often handled with apparently little 
care, they may remain in service for a very long time. 
The marvel is that they do not burst with the water 
pressure. The breaking of a water-pot at the spring, or 
when passing to and fro, is the signal for a fearful outburst 
of weeping and wailing. Sometimes in the early morning 
one is suddenly aroused by most piercing shrieks and, at 
first, one is ready to think that nothing short of murder 
is being committed. Experience, however, soon teaches 
one to realise that nothing worse has happened than the 
breaking of a water-pot. The young people take the 
calamity very seriously, for what particular reason I do 
not know. 

Clay pots are being displaced wherever possible, kerosene 
tins being adopted for water and iron negro pots taking 
the place of the earthen vessels for cooking. 

In most parts of the Ibo country native cotton is 
cultivated, or rather gathered in, as the effort expended is 
almost negligible. The fluffy raw cotton is cleansed by 
fingering and by threshing with a bow string. It is then 
spun by means of a bobbin which revolves by its own 
weight after being started with a sharp twist between 
thumb and finger. By constant practice the women are 
able to impart so great an impetus to the bobbin that it 
spins at such a rate as to appear stationary. Spinning is 
done whenever the operator finds herself free from domestic 
affairs, much in the same way as the Cornish and Scotch 
women ply their knitting needles. The business requires 
but little effort either of mind or body, and can be prac- 
tised anywhere in the street whilst gossiping or in the 
market when trade is slack. 


The cotton thread thus spun is coarse, but very durable. 
It is woven on hand looms into strips of cloth from twelve 
to fifteen inches in width. The finished article is used 
for caps and loin cloths, and on the western side of the 
Niger shawls are made by sewing strips with blue or 
brown. The colours are fast and do not fade easily, 
either by washing or by the action of the sun. In this 
respect they surpass English dyes, particularly the blue. 

Like other primitive industries, however, native spin- 
ning and weaving are doomed. Foreign cloth, especially 
certain German lines, has captured the native market, 
and in a comparatively short time the local article will be 
quite discarded. It cannot compete with European cloth, 
either as regards price or attractiveness. Here occurs 
another instance of the inevitable disintegration of native 
trade, the denationalising of the people. Again, the mis- 
sionary is held to be the culprit, as he is generally accused 
of introducing clothing for his converts. But the mis- 
sionaries have no interest in canteens ! The stocks of 
cloth cleared annually by the trading firms are enormous. 
On the one hand the wearing of clothes is condemned in 
emphatic language, but on the other the enterprise of 
merchants in selling cloth is commended. We do not find 
that European directors are prepared to place sentiment 
before dividend ! Why should they ? The only trouble 
is that there are critics who are hard to please and who, if 
taken seriously, are hopelessly inconsistent. In large 
towns like Onitsha the market is ever growing for foreign 
cloth, and, except amongst the Hausas and other up-river 
natives, native cloth is scarcely ever seen nowadays. 

Some of the women are adepts in mat weaving and 
grass plaiting and, as in so many other directions, the 
work of each district is marked by its own peculiar char- 
acteristics. On the western side of the river we have the 
" Asaba " mat. This is from five to seven feet in length 
and from thirty to forty inches in width. It is made from 
the pith of bamboo palm fronds cut into long thin 
strips whilst green, and then laid out in the sun to dry. 
The strips are placed on the ground in parallel lines and 
then lightly stitched across, at intervals of two inches, 


with dyed fibre. They are stiff and useless as body cover- 
ings, but are in great demand as bed mats by the natives 
and by Europeans as a serviceable material for ceilings 
and screens. Another form of ute (mat) is plaited from 
the leaves of water flags (akamala) and, as these are from 
one half to a full inch in width, it is not a difficult process. 
This is the simplest of all forms of weaving andis equiva- 
lent to that done by children in the first stages of kinder- 
garten education. 

But work of a higher order follows when, with upili 
(palm leaves), baskets of different designs are made. For 
these the plaiting demands close attention, particularly in 
the case of baskets provided with a detachable cover. 
Best of all is the plaiting of the ata (spear grass) into 
baskets and trays ; likewise the weaving of the mid- 
ribs of ngwaw palm leaves into bags. The ata work is 
very durable, consisting as it does of a number of strands 
of grass securely whipped together like a wire-protected 
hose-pipe. The bags are delightful examples of fibre 
weaving and invariably meet with a ready sale. They 
are also highly appreciated by English ladies and are 
quickly bought up when offered for sale at bazaars. The 
best specimens are made attractive with brown and blue 
dyes, by fancy edging and other little embellishments. 

A very fine fibre is drawn from the fresh green leaf of 
the bamboo palm. The leaf is bent and gently broken, 
and the glossy side is pulled back evenly. The silky 
stands are pulled out and it is then woven into strips 
about a yard in length and half a yard in width and 
finished with fringed ends. It may be left natural colour 
or dyed. It is designated as ukaw. It is woven on the 
western side of the Niger and worn by none but chiefs, 
and by these only on certain days, as a sort of sacrificial 
Vestment. Two or three strips are joined, and the ukaw 
is then thrown over the shoulders toga fashion. Women 
extract the fibre and weave it, but they may not wear the 
cloth except when one is mourning for her husband. It 
is more costly than the ordinary cotton cloth. 

The more expensive cloth is that known as ufa, 
again a production of the western side. The thread for 


this is spun from the downy substance found under the 
bark of the young branches of the ufa tree. It is 
collected by the women, spun and woven similarly to 
cotton, and corresponds to the European " fine linen." 
It is highly prized and Very strong, but its price is pro- 
hibitive to any but well-to-do folk. 

There is no greater opportunity for the women to display 
their artistic abilities than in the adornment of their 
persons by means of stains. The practice is met with in 
all its stages, from the crudest daubing with yellow and 
red (camwood dye), to the beautifully executed patterns 
traced with uli (indigo). The camwood stain (ufie) is used 
almost exclusively by girls who are passing through the 
nkpu ceremonies preparatory to marriage ; the uli is com- 
mon to all — men and women. It is a quaint spectacle to 
see a party of women and girls assisting each other in this 
part of their toilet. The custom of " painting " as an 
essential element in a lady's make-up is practised quite 
openly. It is not limited to the face — the whole body is 
treated from head to foot. When passing through the 
town of Nibo one Sunday morning we came to a charming 
shady glade, and there met a group of women and girls 
engaged in beautifying each other. They were quite 
engrossed in their art. The stain was pressed out from the 
fruit into a wooden bowl and applied with a small curved 
iron tool, which followed the line naturally and enabled 
the artist to draw clean strokes in the same way as a sign- 
writer does with his long-haired brush. Where iron instru- 
ments are not procurable recourse is had to pointed pieces 
of stick. The freehand designs are usually cleverly drawn, 
and the pattern is different for each woman. In the process 
the one undergoing it is very often soothed to sleep, and 
the whole work may be completed whilst she is blissfully 
unconscious. When first applied the stain is of a greenish 
tint which changes to a deep black after a few hours. The 
patterns remain clearly visible for about a week and then 
gradually wear off. The art in itself has distinct merit, 
and shows originality in design and treatment, but the 
beautifying effect is open to question. Sometimes the 
result is rather startling and it is always weird, judged by 


European ideas. In the past men were given to the habit 
quite as much as women, but latterly they have begun to 
discard it. When men are thus painted they always 
submit to its being done by women. It has one feature 
which makes it superior to rouge and such-like preparations 
— it does not rub off nor cause annoyance when the 
atmosphere is slightly heated ! 

Cicatrisation is a la mode for great numbers of the Ibo 
people, either as an aid to beauty or as tribal markings 
(ichi). Both sexes submit to the operation, but it takes 
different forms for men and women. In the case of the 
latter it is performed chiefly as a preliminary to marriage. 
Men are not so keen on the marking of the body by mbubu, 
but are decidedly partial to the ichi form. To produce 
the mbubu the body is first smeared with chalk and upon 
this the lines are sketched out with charcoal, the most 
common figures being a reversed cross on a star ; I never 
remember noting patterns containing curved lines. The 
artist then cuts a series of small slits in the flesh with a 
pointed triangular-shaped razor (ugelle, or uche). The 
skin is forthwith raised and a pellet of tightly compressed 
cotton-wool or palm leaf is inserted under it. When all 
the slits have been thus padded a preparation of charcoal 
is smeared over the whole. The charcoal treatment is 
repeated on several successive days until the desired result 
is attained, this being a regular pattern of black oval 
blobs which stand out conspicuously upon the skin. In 
some cases the slits are not plugged, and then, of course, 
the mbubu are less pronounced, but nevertheless are 
plainly visible. 

By a somewhat similar process men are provided with 
permanent, unbreakable, and thief-resisting necklaces. 
No plugging is done for this, but the wounds are repeatedly 
irritated and prevented from healing until scars are 
developed of the size and style desired. 

The ichi (tribal marking) is a much more elaborate and 
serious affair, and where the custom prevails no freeborn 
male would dream of forgoing his inherited right to 
display the marks of his town and family. The operation is 
a very painful one, but is stoically, and even cheerfully 


endured. In no case is it conducive to beauty ; usually, 
indeed, it leads to gross disfigurement. 

The styles are wonderfully diverse, sometimes consist- 
ing of but a few crude cuts, as practised on the western 
side of the Niger. These are designated ebwuba, and they 
are inflicted upon the face of the baby at the age of one 
month. The marking of the body is deferred until the 
initiation ceremony by which citizenship is conferred. 
This work is done by women ; the flesh is cut in a series of 
lines, and soot (lamp black), straight from the nearest 
cooking pot, is rubbed in thoroughly to produce the 
intensely black effect. 

In other cases the whole of the upper half of the face is 
cut and scarred, and this is what is termed ichi. For this 
operation the services of men from the town of Umu-di- 
awka are in great demand ; in fact, these men hold a 
sort of monopoly of the profession, and travel all over the 
country for the purpose ; and, judging by the number 
of those bearing the ichi marks, it must be a prosperous 

The same instrument is used as for cutting mbubu, but 
the method is somewhat different. The flesh is cut to the 
standard tribal marking. Each slit in turn is then opened 
out and the flesh pressed back with the thumb-nail, and 
the cavity is filled in with lamp-black procured from the 
roof of the kitchen. Boys submit to the custom between 
the ages of eight and fourteen, according to their social 
position and zeal for the prerogatives of the tribe. 

It should be observed here that the ichi operation is 
performed by men, but it seemed convenient to touch upon 
the subject in this place. The same remark applies to a 
simple form of tattooing, for which lamp-black, usually from 
a kerosene lamp, is the medium used. The drawing is 
made upon the skin of the person and it is then pricked out 
with a pin. The design is sometimes a rough drawing, such 
as a spread-eagled crocodile, often it is simply plain lines 
and crosses, whilst of late years it has become the fashion 
for a man's name to be tattooed on his forearm. Cases are 
also reported where a man has had the brand of his favour- 
ite " gin " indelibly inscribed upon his person ! 


Finally there are the medical and dental professions. 
Doctoring is inextricably bound up with the native religion, 
and comments on it must be reserved for the chapters 
dealing with the religious customs of the people. The 
business of the Ibo dentist is not to cure toothache nor to 
improve the patient's masticating powers. His work is 
to extract, chip, or file the teeth, according to the owner's 
taste. In order to conform to the fashions of some localities 
it is incumbent to have all the single teeth chipped so as to 
give them sharp, saw-like points. Others leave the cutting 
edges of the teeth intact, but widen out the interstices 
between them, leaving the part of the teeth near the 
gums sometimes less than half their original width. The 
chipping is performed with a chisel and mallet and is a 
very painful operation — the tap, tap, tap being exceed- 
ingly irritating to the nerves. 

Many of the rising generation, now coming under the 
influence of education and some degree of civilisation, are 
discarding these primitive customs which entail mutila- 
tion. The Onitsha women regard the ichi marks as alo 
(an abominable thing), and usually refuse to sit upon the 
same seat with a man so marked. Many even go so far in 
expressing their disapproval as to refuse to shake hands 
with such a man. Men from the interior feel this treatment 
keenly, and the fact that they are thus put to open shame 
is likely to prove a strong incentive to abolishing such 
customs. The professional cicatrisers and the dentists 
will soon have to seek some other means of livelihood. 
Their occupation, which has been practised for genera- 
tions, and the rights of which have been so jealously 
guarded, must inevitably cease to be — the old must, once 
more, give place to the new. 



Whether the Ibo people trace their ancestry back to 
Jubal-Cain it is not my purpose to discuss, but they cer- 
tainly have inherited a fair share of the art originated by 
the " Father of Music." How long they have been per- 
formers upon the instruments now in use, and who invented 
them, are questions to which answers are not forthcoming. 
As the people of the interior have never, until very recent 
times, had any intercourse with the civilised world, we 
conclude that their musical proclivities, their instruments 
and their songs, remain practically as they existed in 
primitive times, or at any rate that they have developed 

On investigation we find a small number of wind and 
string instruments. These are all crude in form, but 
constant practice is demanded to master them. To com- 
pensate for the lack of mechanical contrivances greater 
skill is needed. 

The simplest and most primitive instrument is the 
"ugene " — a kind of whistle. It is made of baked clay, in 
shape round, and about the size of a billiard ball. A 
substitute is occasionally used, cut from a piece of ukpadi 
wood. It has two holes, one at the top which serves as 
the mouthpiece ; the other at the front for measuring 
and varying the piped notes. I first met with it during 
the war between the Nkpaw and Ogiddi peoples, where it 
was used for signalling purposes. The notes, which are 
produced by blowing through the upper hole, piccolo 
fashion, are shrill and piercing. The men on outpost 
duty, perched in trees, sounded the alarm and communi- 
cated messages by means of these little instruments. 


186 MUSIC 

The custom of transmitting signals by sounds is a com- 
mon one, and is not confined to these whistles. The chiefs 
entitled to carry ivory horns send out messages by power- 
ful blasts of dot-and-dash (Morse) notes. The horns are 
blown flute-wise, and the note can be varied in length, 
but not in tone. The chiefs are adepts in the art of trumpet- 
ing on the horns and use them for communicating quite 
long messages. More often they perform upon them 
purely for display, especially in assemblies, and the din 
created by half a dozen chiefs in full blast is deafening. 
A big supply of breath is required, but a satisfactory 
result depends entirely on the proper use of the lips. 

Other methods of spreading information are practised, 
notably by the beating of tom-toms, of which more will 
be said later, and by simply whistling with the lips. Men 
can communicate with one another quite freely by this 
method when completely out of speaking range. Boys 
early find out how to prepare whistles from grass stems, 
and some of the youths can imitate bugle calls in a very 
clever manner by blowing down the hollow stalks of a 
freshly cut pawpaw leaf. 

Besides these I know of but one other wind instrument — 
the " awja," a reed some six inches in length furnished with 
three holes for fingering — one in front, one at the back for 
the thumb, and the bottom outlet. It is always used in 
assemblies of men, especially when a big piece of work is 
in progress. The instrumentalist sits down on one side 
and blows vigorously through the pipe ; the tones are 
shrill and piercing, and at times peculiarly trying to the 

It is supposed to instil energy into the labourers and 
help them to forget the burden of their task, and the 
effect is similar to that of bagpipes. It undoubtedly does 
make a difference, and natives work much better when 
inspired by its sounds. Europeans soon develop murderous 
tendencies if forced to stay long in the neighbourhood of 
an awja enthusiast. The native, of course, recognises the 
air, but the foreigner would be equally pleased, and 
driven to desperation, were he condemned to a steam 
syren in charge of a mad locomotive driver. 

MUSIC 187 

The mention of tom-toms at once conjures up the picture 
of the savage in all his war-paint, but this is a false im- 
presssion, They are not exactly brain-soothing instru- 
ments, any more than drums would be were they the only 
instruments composing a military band. Yet the Ibo 
tom-tom is not such an ear-splitting contrivance as the 
drums of an Orange lodge. So far as my experience goes 
County Armagh still retains the leading place in drum- 
beating. For one thing the tom-toms are mostly nothing 
but hollow blocks of wood; the sound carries a long 
distance in a country where there is no vehicular traffic 
and no roar of industry to deaden it. The big tom-toms 
(ekwe) are not intended to be instruments of music, but 
are used chiefly for spreading information for certain 
ceremonial purposes, and at sacrificial festivals ; meetings 
are called by their use, and various announcements pro- 
claimed. An ekwe is in great request when a man proceeds 
to the highest titular degree. On completion of all the 
business connected with the taking of the Awzaw title, 
the fact is communicated by beating the tom-tom. The 
smaller tom-toms may be of similar pattern, or they may 
be wooden cylinders with skin stretched over one end, 
the most prized — and now rather rare — being those 
covered with human skin. In the old days it was not un- 
common for human victims to be flayed alive and their 
skins converted into drum-heads. 

Some of the drums are of smaller pattern. They are 
distinguished from the ekwe and are technically known as 
ufie. Steady application for a long period is necessary in 
order to become a qualified performer on these. The 
performer must know his instrument thoroughly, and be 
able to gauge the differences in sound to be extracted from 
the whole top surface of the drum. Each square inch 
around the slotted opening in the cylinder has its own 
peculiar note, and these notes are further supplemented 
by fingering. Often two drums are used simultaneously 
and the hands cross and recross like those of a cavalry 
drummer ; hence, although to the European tom-toms 
are apt to become monotonous and wearisome, yet it must 
be allowed that the native exponent exhibits great skill 

188 MUSIC 

in beating his tattoo upon it. To him, indeed, the beating 
of the instrument is always significant ; something is 
conveyed to the native mind which is utterly incompre- 
hensible to the European, and our inability to grasp that 
meaning in no way detracts from the importance of the 
drum in every Ibo function. 

Many of the ekwe are of huge size, particularly those 
which form part of the municipal regalia, and some have 
romantic histories attached to them. There is such a one 
at a town called Umu-Nze. On one of our journeys we 
had trekked across country and passed through the out- 
lying parts of the town until we reached the market-place. 
In the centre there is what, at first sight, appears to be a 
house, but on closer examination we found it was a shelter 
built over an immense tom-tom. It was sufficiently 
interesting to induce me to measure it. The dimensions 
are as follows : length of actual drum cylinder, 5 ft. 8 in. ; 
extended ornamental ends, each 2 ft. 3 in. ; length over 
all 10 ft. 2 in. ; height, 8 ft. 5 in. ; Width, 7 ft. 10 in. 

It is hewn from a single block of uroko wood, but it 
now shows distinct signs of age and use. Local tradition 
affirms that this tom-tom was the work of a man from the 
town of Amawbia. He had earned a great reputation by 
drum-making, and his services were therefore sought by 
the Umu-Nze people. He was promised a very large fee 
on condition that he produced a larger drum than any 
possessed by other towns in the district. He undertook 
the task and the tom-tom duly appeared, and was at once 
the object of intense pride to the people of Umu-Nze. 

Then arose the disturbing thought, " What if a rival 
town contracted with the maker for a yet bigger drum ? " 
Horrors ! In such case the glory of Umu-Nze would 
speedily depart and the pride of the people be humbled 
to the dust. This was altogether too serious a prospect to 
contemplate, and drastic steps had to be taken to prevent 
such a catastrophe. Hence it came about that the maker 
of the wonderful tom-tom was paid his price and allowed 
to leave for home well satisfied with his handiwork and 
its reward. His satisfaction was short-lived, for he had 
hardly got clear of the town when he was waylaid, led 

MUSIC 189 

back to the market-place and then and there sacrificed, 
his own blood being shed to dedicate that which his hand 
had wrought. All town tom-toms are consecrated, and 
consequently regarded as sacred things, and it was cus- 
tomary to sprinkle the blood of a human sacrifice upon 
them before they were ceremonially beaten. 

The " ubaw " is an instrument which cannot be compared 
with any foreign one with which I am acquainted. It is 
composed of thin pieces of a very soft wood (okwe) and 
in shape resembles an oblong box. It is from five to 
fifteen inches long, from four to six inches wide, and from 
one to two inches deep ; thus far it is similar in principle to 
a violin, but in lieu of strings thin strips of offolaw 1 are 
used. These are fixed at the tail-end and then pass over a 
low bridge to which they are also bound. The loose ends 
are cut to different lengths and separated widely enough 
to permit freedom in fingering. The instrument is held 
in both hands, with the tail piece pointing away from the 
person, and the thumbs are used for manipulating the 
strips of bamboo. The thumbs press cleanly on the strips 
and are then slipped sharply backwards, and a twanging 
sound results, the notes varying according to the different 
lengths of the six or eight keys of the instrument. Occa- 
sionally loosely threaded cowrie shells are attached to the 
tail end of the ubaw, which are shaken to make an accom- 
paniment. The music is not unpleasant, but there is little 
life in it, the bamboo strips producing a dull note. One 
notices young men leisurely parading the streets strumming 
these instruments, but they are not in demand at assemblies ; 
indeed they could not be heard ; the ubaw is eminently a 
solo instrument. 

Probably the most interesting of the Ibo instruments is 
the " ubaw-akwala," a sort of primitive guitar — or is it the 
original of the nigger banjo ? It has a triangular-shaped 
body formed by sewing together three pieces of soft wood 
with fibre. To the under part from four to eight pliable 
canes of different lengths are securely laced, all of them 
extending well beyond the head of the instrument. They 

1 " Offolaw," as used here, means the hard outer skin of the frond of 
the bamboo pa]m. 

190 MUSIC 

are then bent upwards and the strings are tied to the 
ends, crossed over the bridge, and finally fastened to the 
tail-piece. The strings (awmi) are pieces of fibre taken 
from the base of the palm tree and carefully rubbed down 
to the required fineness. The instrument is held like 
the ubaw, but the method of playing is different, the 
thumbs lightly twanging the strings, the left and right 
working an equal number of them. It has rather a sweet 
sound, not unlike light staccato notes from a violin. The 
instrument is tuned by bending the canes and passing the 
strings one or more times round them until the desired 
pitch is secured. The musician must learn all tunes by 
ear, or compose his own, which he frequently does. 

The ubaw-akwala is the favourite instrument for 
accompanying songs and chants, and is particularly 
favoured by strolling singers at night. One is often 
awakened by the pleasant strains of a party of musicians 
on their rounds. 

Instrumental soloists of any reputation, especially per- 
formers on the awja and ekwe, are treated with great 
respect, their services are in demand and their reward is 
generally liberal. Talent is recognised and many artistes 
become very popular. From a musical point of view one is 
inclined to think that the native singing is more fascinating 
than the instrumental music. It is doubtful whether 
there are any proper songs, but there are a great number 
of established refrains and recitatives. The leader of a 
chorus is accorded much the same honour amongst the 
Ibos as that granted to the minstrel in ancient days in 
England. He must possess not only the musical gift but 
the poetical instinct also. He creates his theme as the song 
proceeds, and great ingenuity is displayed in fitting 
words to time and tune on the spur of the moment. Any 
unusual incident is seized upon and utilized as material 
by the leader, and when this fails he has recourse to the 
retelling, in song, the exploits of old. 

Couplets appear to be most in favour with the Ibos, the 
leader chanting two lines as a solo, and the full company 
joining in with a double-lined chorus. Occasionally one 
hears a four-lined song without solo or chorus, and there 

MUSIC 191 

are a number of songs intended to be sung as solos. The 
last mentioned are the only ones for which the natural 
voice is used ; for all chorus work a falsetto voice is 
assumed. So accustomed do men become to the practice 
of using their voices in this manner that with many it 
develops into a confirmed habit, and they adopt this 
artificial high-pitched key in conversation. This is very 
objectionable, but the singing, in contrast, is at times 
very fine. The best entertainments take place on the 
darkest nights, on moonlight nights dancing usually 
supersedes all other forms of amusement. In the darkness, 
when none of the party can see the leader, the most perfect 
time and tune are maintained ; the members of the party 
may be few or many, but the voices of all rise and fall as 
of one man ; no individual voice can be distinguished 
above the rest ; there is not a fraction of time lost at the 
beginning of a passage, nor is there the slightest sign of 
dragging at its close. It is fascinating listening to such a 
party, and the foreigner is astonished at the precision with 
which the men sing. They never need speeding up or slow- 
ing down, but render the whole selection perfectly, each 
man familiar with his part and able to perform it inde- 
pendently of a conductor. 

To be able to start a native chant is a most useful 
accomplishment, and if an opportune moment be seized 
when some irksome labour is in progress it will lead to 
more than ordinary effort on the part of workmen. When 
canoeing it is extremely helpful, and paddles which have 
been inclined to lag quickly liven up to the strains of 
music. It is amusing to watch the effect of a song upon 
a crew. At first it makes no apparent change in the 
situation, then gradually chatting ceases, and one here 
and there begins to hum the tune. Within a short time 
the song grips the men, and at once the paddles begin to 
strike in tune with the rhythm, and a good stretch of 
water will be covered without conscious effort on the part 
of the men. 

The only attempts to introduce European ideas of 
music amongst the Ibos have been made by missionaries — 
with what success is mainly a matter of opinion. That 

192 MUSIC 

there is an inherent love and instinct for music there can 
be no question. The native boy will quickly pick out 
tunes by ear oh any instrument, and there is no doubt 
that some would well repay proper instruction, as in the 
case of other West Africans. Up to the present English 
hymn tunes and chants, set to Ibo translations, are apt to 
be treated mechanically. The singing is not lacking in 
volume — far from it — but the living and soul-stirring 
effect engendered by the native songs is practically 
lacking in the translated productions. There is never 
the same spirit of abandonment in the foreign article as in 
the native one. European music, as they interpret it, has 
not yet succeeded in gaining access to the inner being of 
the Ibo ; it may have the form of music, but it lacks 
the essence. He will sing hymns as continuously as 
formerly he chanted native lyrics, but he is never carried 
away by them, however much he may enjoy singing. 
With English music volume is the one object in view, and 
congregational singing in the larger churches in the Ibo 
country is like the thunder of many waters. 

The more one listens to native music, the more one is 
conscious of its vital power. It touches the chords of 
man's inmost being, and stirs his primal instincts. It 
demands the performer's whole attention and so sways the 
individual as almost to divide asunder, for the time being, 
mind and body. It is intensely passionate, and no great 
effort of the imagination is required to realise that such 
music could only have originated with the son of Cain ! 
Under its influence, and that of the accompanying dance, 
one has seen men and women pass into a completely dazed 
condition, oblivious and apparently unconscious of the 
world around them. Both sexes are drawn under its spell 
and lose themselves in it. It is savage ; the instruments 
are barbaric ; but it pulsates with the spirit of the thing 
in its most potent forms. It lifts men and women out of 
themselves; it may leave them almost prostrated with 
exhaustion ; it may bring into activity all the baser 
instincts. The outcome of a full programme of song and 
dance frequently ends in voluptuous debauchery. Even 
the European, if he has within him the feeblest suscep- 

MUSIC 193 

tibility to music, is liable to find the elemental forces of his 
nature strangely stirred by the passionate fervour of the 
" possessed " musicians. What the bagpipes are to the 
typical Highlander and the drums to an Ulster Orange- 
man, that, and more, is native music to the Ibo. In each 
case the emotions are roused and the pulses quickened; 
but the native yields himself to its influence with absolute 



By " Trade " we mean everything that is connected 
directly with buying and selling, and more especially the 
functions of marketing. The term does not include in- 
dustries. Trading is a distinct profession and as such 
practically fills up the lives of many Ibos. It might almost 
be affirmed that the whole of the native trade is in the 
hands of the women and by them largely the markets are 
controlled. In former times the women had direct transac- 
tions with the trading factories, and hosts of them still 
pursue this course, but there is springing up a class of 
middlemen who work on commission. 

Ordinarily no Ibo man takes any part in the actual 
buying and selling ; he may have some share in preparing 
the goods for the market and may, occasionally, assist 
in carrying to and fro, but there his activities usually 
cease. If an Ibo man be seen buying in the market, it is 
almost a certain indication that he is either a stranger 
or a man with no womenfolk to act for him. 

As previously observed (Chap. VIII) marketing is the 
central feature in the life of every Ibo woman, and to be 
successful in trade is the signal for generous congratulation. 
By this a woman's value is calculated ; it affects her own 
position and comfort ; a man considers it in the choice of 
a wife, and a husband's favour is bestowed or withheld 
largely according to the degree of his wife's success in 
the market. 

Even if she have not the wherewithal to buy and sell, 
yet a woman inevitably gravitates to the market for its 
own attractions. It is the hub of the universe and the 
centre of all news and gossip. To deprive a woman of 



the privilege of visiting the market would be to cut off 
one, and, perhaps, the greatest pleasure of her life. 

Markets are held in every town and village. They are 
named after the days on which they are held, according 
to the four days of the Ibo week, viz. Ekke, Afaw, Oye 
(Olje) and Nkwaw. Occasionally for Ekke and Nkwaw, 
instead of every fourth day, the market is held every 
eighth day, and they are then designated as Ekke Uku and 
Nkwaw Uku. In very rare instances, as at Upulu, the 
great market is held every sixteenth day. 

So it falls out that women may spend some part of every 
day in one or other of the markets, and many do this. 
In the interior parts it is customary for the middle of the 
day to be occupied in this fashion. The women have time 
to fulfil their domestic duties before starting and, if the 
market be within easy distance, need not leave home till 
10 a.m. Often, however, they have to tramp a long way, 
and this means an early start and a correspondingly late 

The markets are controlled by the influential old women, 
and they frame and administer the rules and regulations 
and settle all questions as they arise. Each market is 
presided over by its " queen " (Amwu), assisted by the 
women's council, of which she is the head. This council 
often fixes prices, the rate of cowrie exchange, what 
markets shall be visited, and with what towns commercial 
relations shall be established or maintained. It decrees 
what articles are to be admitted into the market and what 
is taboo ; this latter being also greatly influenced by the 
patron alusi (idol-fetish) of each market. 

The first queen of the market to whom I was presented 
was presiding over a busy market scene at Akwukwu 
(some 18 miles N.W. of Asaba). She was installed in 
the appointed place apart from the other women. She 
was one of the senior women, but by no means ancient. 
Across the bridge of her nose and around her eyes were 
prominent chalk lines, giving her the appearance of wear- 
ing a monstrous pair of white spectacles. At close quarters 
these rings give a peculiar effect to the eyes and they are 
accentuated out of all proportion to the face — excep- 


tionally so on a black one. About her body was a white 
cloth — native woven — and on her head a quaint brown 
billy-cock hat, pulled well down and resembling a candle 
extinguisher. A single feather, the sole ornament, reared 
itself in a rakish manner at the side. The hat and throne 
indicated her rank and position, no other women in the 
market being allowed such prerogatives, except such as 
happened to be queens, belonging to other towns. 

In former times there were no booths or stalls or any 
equivalent to them ; the only semblance of a building 
was the small, ill-kept hut of the patron-deity of the 
market, and possibly the rude shelter covering the town 
ekwe (tom-tom). Sometimes, also, on one side are the tiny 
dwelling places of the Osu people, i.e. those who are de- 
voted to the alusi or ju-ju of that particular place. With 
the peaceful settlement of the country it is becoming more 
and more common for rows of booths to be erected in the 

The first comers to the market squat down where they 
please ; those who arrive later squeeze in somehow, for an 
incredibly small space is considered to constitute an ex- 
cuse for thrusting in themselves and their wares. The 
ground is literally covered, and one must walk carefully. 
The articles are laid on the bare ground, or spread on a 
banana leaf, or arranged in wicker trays and baskets. 
There is no hawking and no crying of wares ; the goods 
are left to advertise themselves, the women, meanwhile, 
sitting mute before them, or holding friendly converse 
with their neighbours. If a woman wishes to make a pur- 
chase she leaves her pitch in charge of a daughter or friend, 
and proceeds to tour the market in search of the desired 

As the market fills, it becomes a veritable pandemonium. 
It gives the impression that no business could possibly 
be conducted in the midst of such chaotic confusion. 
The haggling over prices, the shouting, the hurling of 
epithets, the incessant clatter of tongues create a din 
that can often be heard a mile away. 

All goods are sold in the terms of the local currency ; 
there is no bartering of commodities in exchange for 


other commodities. It is true that in disposing of produce 
to the factories the women bring away cloth, gin, and 
other wares, but the produce is usually paid for with a 
cheque equivalent in value to the goods brought. The 
cheque is afterwards presented at the retail selling store 
and goods are handed out according to the face value of the 
cheque, i.e. the value of the produce is reckoned in cash 
and the value of the goods on requisition is based upon 
cash. The same procedure is in force in the markets. 
Each transaction is an entirely separate and distinct affair. 
A buys B's yams for cowries and B buys A's oil for cowries 
also ; they make no attempt at direct exchange. 

In the open market there are no fixed quotations for 
goods ; on the one hand the seller strives to make the 
highest price, and on the other the buyer is just as keen 
to drive the closest bargain for herself, hence the out- 
rageous haggling over prices. 

The goods are handled and re-handled, commented 
upon and rejected by a critical crowd, before an actual 
buyer appears. Then ensues a wordy contest, both buyer 
and seller exerting themselves to the uttermost and 
hurling personal epithets at one another in no uncertain 
fashion. When the bout has run its course the goods 
change hands, and the parties are immediately on amicable 
terms once more. 

Everything that is at all saleable finds its way to the 
market, irrespective of quantity or quality. Food-stuff 
naturally takes precedence of all other goods, yam, dried 
fish, palm oil, ground nuts, beans, and so on. One can buy 
single bananas at six cowries each, or tiny slices of paw- 
paw for two cowries. As an instance of taboo on certain 
articles, no coco-nuts may be brought into the market at 
Adazzi, nor indeed may they be eaten by any of the folk 

For some articles the prices fluctuate tremendously 
at different times of the year. From September to Decem- 
ber yams are at the lowest price, i.e. immediately after 
the harvest and before they have been stored on the 
awba frames. From December the price steadily rises, 
until from May onwards the cost becomes prohibitive to 


many people, and substitutes are sought. Taking the 
country as a whole, since 1900, when the Colonial Office 
took over the administration of the country, prices have 
advanced greatly. Fowls, and in many districts yams, 
are double the price they used to be. Roofing mats used 
to be bought at the rate of one hundred for three heads 
of tobacco (9d.) ; now they are sold at forty for a shilling, 
and inferior mats at that. Every commodity has increased 
in price in like proportion, and the whole political economy 
of the country is passing through a great transition stage. 
Before the introduction of English coinage a local 
currency was in use. In the more southern and eastern 
districts there was a strong demand for manillas and brass 
rods ; in the northern and western parts cowries were, and 
still are, the most popular form of currency. In all the 
country south of the prohibition line, trade gin is a re- 
cognised medium of exchange. In the northern parts 
the manilla is not current, and the brass rods are wanted 
solely for the sake of being converted into "nza" (leg- 
rings for girls). At Onitsha, and on the western side of the 
river, the large cowrie shells are used, whereas in the eastern 
hinterland the small type only are acceptable, these smaller 
being reckoned at double the value of the larger. In 
cowries the table of value is : — 

6 Nkpulu ( = single shells) = 1 Ekpetti 
10 Ekpetti = 1 Ukwu 

20 Ukwu = 1 Akpa. (i.e. bag). 

An akpa is calculated as a man's load. In the counting 
of cowries the number six is the standard. The one count- 
ing squats on the ground before a heap of shells and starts 
by separating groups of six, and then sweeps ten such 
piles into one heap to form an ukwu. 

As in goods, so also in cowries, the price in English 
currency fluctuates with the market, and again it is 
notable that since 1900 the cowrie has appreciated in value 
to an extraordinary degree. For one thing they are no 
longer imported, and hence, with no means of increasing, 
or even maintaining the supply, they are liable to appre- 


ciate. They certainly have not yet declined in favour 
with the natives, especially in interior towns, and they 
always ensure preferential treatment to the customer 
able to tender them. Many natives refuse to sell at all 
except for cowries, and it will be a long time before they 
are finally displaced by a metal coinage unless forcible 
measures be taken. 

In spite of the fact that the importation of cowries 
ceased some years back, immense quantities are still in 
circulation, and the tendency to hoard them is as strong 
as ever. But the fact that the supply has been cut off 
has led to their appreciating fully 100%. Whereas one 
remembers when the exchange was calculated as 25 ukwu 
to the shilling, it has gradually changed to 16, 15 until 
now 12 and 13 ukwu are often quoted in the markets for 
the English shilling. Moreover, the purchasing power 
of the cowrie is greater than that of metal coinage. What- 
ever may be the market exchange value, a buyer is able 
to purchase more with cowries than with their equivalent 
in cash, and, in addition, be saved much inconvenience, 
since the shells are much more readily accepted. 

I can offer no suggestion as to how and why the cowries 
gained their position and popularity as a medium of ex- 
change. They have all been imported, chiefly from the 
islands of the Indian Archipelago, I believe, and the 
number must be literally as the sand on the seashore. 
I have been in some treasure houses where the store of 
cowries has reminded me of heaps of newly threshed corn. 
The shell when clean — a rare condition — is of light colour 
and has a corrugated top and edges ; very often the top 
is chipped off to make a hole so that it can be threaded 
on string. It is amusing to see the neat way a spurious 
shell is flicked out from the heap by the counter. A native 
may have a false shell passed upon him if he accepts a 
quantity as counted, i.e. without checking the amount 
on the spot, but no native would pass such a shell when 
actually counting, even if he were blindfolded. A cowrie 
shell, even though its value is only one ninetieth part of a 
penny (or, of the larger sort, the one hundred and eightieth 
part of a penny), is seldom wasted. One may fall into the 


road ; the next woman passing that way, should she notice 
it, deftly picks up the stray shell with her toes, thence 
transfers it to her fingers and puts it in her bag. 

The introduction of a metal coinage is really a great 
boon. It has brought much relief in many directions, 
not the least being in the matter of domestic economy. 
The ordinary silver, and the nickel subsidiary coinage, 
enable one to calculate prices and make purchases with 
ease. Prior to this use of metal one was constantly being 
confronted with bewildering problems in arithmetic when 
marketing, e.g. a fowl might be quoted as Is. 4d. To pay 
for it sixteen multiples of ninety cowrie shells had to be 
counted and handed over. 

The lowest value of the subsidiary nickel coinage is the 
tenth of a penny, equivalent to 9 or 18 shells according 
to the cowrie in use. This is a low value, but an enormous 
number of purchases are made at prices much less than 
a tenth ; moreover the tenth is so small and light that it 
has a pernicious habit of losing itself. A number may be 
strung together, but native string breaks easily and the 
tenths shew a lively aptitude for disappearing. 

Silver coinage must win its way, and the men in many 
places are cute enough to realise that it offers greater 
facilities for banking than the old cowrie shells. It is a 
commonly accepted theory that money is hoarded, and 
this is indeed a fact. In evidence given before the Liquor 
Traffic Commission mention was made of the practice of 
purchasing gin to hold as a treasure. This may be the 
case in some parts, but it most certainly is not so in the 
districts with which I am acquainted. There are huge 
stacks of gin bottles — sometimes hundreds together — 
but they do not contain liquor ; they are merely records 
of what once existed. But money — either in cowries or 
silver coins — is banked extensively, native fashion. I 
have seen hundreds of pounds in silver and immense 
stores of cowries in a man's possession. Then how is it 
banked ? Some say it is buried ; if so, how and where ? 
These questions I leave others to answer ; it would not be 
cricket to reveal what one has learned in confidence. It 
was a matter of many years before I was let into the 


secret, and then I made the discovery more by accident 
than design. 

In one particular district to the north-east of Awka, 
we met with a currency which appeared to be quite unique. 
What was stranger was the fact that the natives would not 
accept cowries ; apparently they did not consider them 
as currency at all. The currency in use consisted of tiny 
pieces of iron resembling small squashed tin-tacks, half 
an inch in length with arrow-shaped heads and the stem 
about the thickness of a large pin. The exchange value was 
roughly 45 to the penny, at Awka these umumu are 
reckoned as equal to two cowries each. In former days 
the Awka men used this currency for acquiring slaves 
from the people of Umu-mba. How many thousands had 
to be counted when making such a purchase baffles one's 
imagination. In the same parts the higher currency con- 
sisted of brass rods, based on a cash value of sixpence each. 

Certain of the chiefs of Awka carry numbers of these 
tiny tack-like pieces of iron in their wallets ; a man 
holding an Awzaw title will never be without a small supply. 
They are used in a sacrificial way whenever the chief takes 
food in another man's house. They form part of the special 
offering for the purification of a house, or of anything 
that needs ceremonial cleansing, those that are used for 
this purpose being eventually bound up in leaves and 
cast away. 



In common, I suppose, with all savage peoples, the Ibos, 
prior to the British occupation of the country, occupied 
their spare time with fighting, generally town against 
town. The evil of this was not so much the blood shed, 
but rather the paralysing of trade and intercourse. It led 
to the isolation and independence of each town through 
the perpetual state of fear which existed. It was never 
safe to venture far beyond the confines of the town, nor 
was this done except by bands of men armed ready to 
defend themselves. It was a rare thing for towns to 
remain at peace for very long, and when quietness did 
happen to prevail for a time, the spell was broken on the 
slightest pretext and hostilities began again forthwith. 

During the dry season fighting was a sort of pastime, 
either between different quarters of the same town or 
between neighbouring towns. In the former case, i.e. 
civil war, firearms were not always used, but recourse was 
had to knives and staves. Helmets woven from the dried 
stems of the largest koko leaves (akasi oyibo) were worn, 
which gave fair protection to the head, but left the face 
exposed. Some men wore doublets made from the same 
material, others had chest and back protectors fastened 
over the shoulders. The majority carried shields com- 
posed of plaited palm stems (igu). The knives were the 
ordinary trade matchets, and these, when well sharpened 
on a stone, and in the hands of a hefty warrior, were 
dangerous weapons. On the days of battle the noise and 
excitement made up for that which was lacking in blows, 
and frequently the preliminaries were prolonged beyond 



all apparent necessity. As a rule fighting ceased for the 
day when a warrior was killed ; the parties straightway 
drew off, the one side to rejoice and make merry with 
feasting, the other to mourn the loss of a comrade. 

On occasion the outbursts were more serious, and during 
our first months at Awka the town was engaged in a civil 
war in which a number of lives were lost. Several sections 
of the town attacked a single quarter, and placed it in a 
state of siege. Skirmishes between outposts were frequent 
with no particular advantage to either side, and all assaults 
in force were beaten back. It was extremely difficult to 
locate the enemy by sight as every advantage was taken 
of the cover of the dense bush. Sharpshooters were posted 
on platforms hidden high up in the large trees, who sniped 
any member of the attacking force who happened to expose 
himself within range of their guns. Immense quantities 
of powder and ball were used — most of it wasted — but 
such men as were hit suffered rather badly, the slugs 
causing large gaping wounds. 

An interesting feature of the war was the preliminary 
preparation for a general attack. The day having been 
fixed, a medicine-man of repute was imported, whose 
business it was to concoct medicine, to provide charms, 
and offer sacrifices to ensure success, these to avail for all 
such as could and would pay the price. For three days 
the ceremonies, with much chanting and excitement, were 
observed without ceasing, and in due course the head and 
body of each warrior was smeared with the medicine, 
which, though of various ingredients no doubt, at sight 
appeared to be nothing more than chalk and water laid 
on in streaks. Anointed with this solution the fighter 
would be immune against flying bullets ; either they 
would not touch him at all, or, should they do so, they 
would simply flatten against his body and fall harmlessly 
to the ground. Some of the warriors were surprised at a 
later stage to find that the medicine did not act in accord- 
ance with the guarantee, but the blame did not fall upon 
the medicine-man. The accident was due to the fact that 
the marksman had managed to secure a medicine of 
superior power to that used by the unfortunate victim, 


or else the stricken man had not fulfilled some necessary 
condition, and thus the medicine had failed to act. Had 
he been willing to give a higher price and fulfilled the 
conditions (to be evolved from his own inner conscious- 
ness !) he would not have suffered ! In their predicament 
some of the men sought our aid, and begged for that 
English medicine which was a sure remedy against bullets. 
They asked for the kind that, when a man was shot, 
caused the bullet simply to pass through the outer shell 
of the body and then to fall into the stomach leaving no 
serious result nor any more internal inconvenience than 
his breakfast might have caused ! 

Men wounded in any part of the body suffer greatly, 
and especially such as are shot in the chest or abdomen. 
Their native friends can do little or nothing for them, and 
many bleed to death. Others die of exhaustion, but we 
saw no case of septic poisoning, although theoretically all 
ought to have died from it, considering the filth and lack 
of proper treatment. The wounds are dressed in a very 
primitive way ; they are bound up with leaves and fibre, 
or covered with clay. In some cases attempts were made 
to extract the slug. In one case the operator cut into the 
back of a man to provide an outlet for a bullet which had 
entered his chest ; this patient eventually bled to death. 
In other cases the bullets are left, and I have seen men 
walking about for a long time with large pieces of iron 
embedded in their flesh. During the disturbances at 
Awka we were able to render assistance to some of the 
wounded ; indeed by the practice of a little amateur 
surgery we won the confidence of our neighbours, and 
were thus able to establish ourselves in a place where, up 
to that date, our tenure had been more precarious than we 
comprehended at the time. From being merely tolerated 
we were accepted as friends, and the relationship thus 
established has remained a cordial one ever since. 

Battles are fought in a haphazard manner ; there is 
little attempt at leadership or organisation. Each unit 
follows his own devices, advancing, firing or turning tail 
exactly as he feels inclined. Those whom one would 
naturally expect to lead their soldiers in battle, i.e. the 


chiefs, are never present. It is convenient for them to 
retire to a remote spot in the bush, well away from the 
fray, where they can in quietness (and security) invoke 
the help of the gods. When there is no further need to 
pray they return home. 

Warriors of renown are respected and honoured, and 
happy is the man entitled to don the eagle's plumes and 
the red tail-feathers of the parrot, in token of his prowess 
in battle. In life he enjoys special privileges, and in death 
is granted the dignity of a warrior's funeral. 

The native guns and ammunition have been noticed 
in an earlier chapter (p. 128). The former consisted of 
flint-locks, cap guns and Snider rifles, but cartridges for 
these last, though always purchasable at certain markets, 
were not so easy to obtain as the ordinary trade powder 
and caps. The black powder is packed in barrels, and a 
dozen of these were sometimes stored in the houses of 
leading men. A good supply is still available, but nowa- 
days it is used by hunters, and, even more extensively, for 
ceremonial cannon-firing at second burials. 

The chief disturbers of the peace were certain bands of 
raiders who either acted on their own account or, more 
frequently, were hired by the men of one town to help them 
fight against another. Such were the dreaded Abams on 
the eastern side of the river, and the Ndi-Ekumeku on the 
western. Both these societies had a large membership 
and were responsible for a vast amount of havoc in the 
districts where they operated. 

The Ekumeku was, and is still, the most formidable 
confederation in the country lying between Asaba and 
Benin. Some account of the society may be given here, 
inasmuch as war was one of its principal functions, other- 
wise it would be more rightly described as a secret 
society. It is rather difficult to decide what the precise 
meaning of the word Ekumeku is. During the last rising 
(1904) the members of the confederacy were named the 
44 Silent Ones"; but that rendering assumed that the 
word was a corruption of Ekwumekwu, i.e. u Don't speak." 
It has also been interpreted as meaning a 44 breathing " 
or " blowing." Probably the idea is based upon that of 


the wind which "bloweth where it listeth; thou canst not 
tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth." So it is with 
the Ekumeku ; they went here, there and everywhere, 
swiftly and silently. Their gatherings took place, and their 
exploits were always carried out on dark nights. No 
country could be better adapted for their operations than 
the forest districts of the Asaba hinterland. 

The king of Iselle-Ukwu was the accredited head of 
the whole society, but members could and did act indepen- 
dently of him. A description of him by an actual member 
of the Ekumeku reads rather quaintly, but it clearly 
illustrates the awe he instilled into the minds of the rank 
and file. "He is the greatest man ever seen in the world 
and second only to the king of Benin ! (What superlative 
should be attached to the king of Benin is not stated !) 
And his wives will be more than fifty." When I called upon 
his majesty in 1900 it was maintained that the harem 
contained some two hundred wives ; it required a good- 
sized village to house them and their children. A report 
was circulated later to the effect that, having wearied of 
some of them, and become impatient owing to their con- 
stant quarrels, he had divorced over fifty of them ; " and 
he died in his bed," i.e. a natural death, which, apparently, 
was quite contrary to expectation. For a period the 
society was wont to remain quiescent ; its members dis- 
banded and pursued the ordinary avocations of normal 
citizens. The oath of allegiance was not necessarily life- 
long, but was repeated with every revival of activity. 
These outbreaks of violence were not governed by any 
fixed rule, but were quite spontaneous ; when the spirit 
moved any one member, in any district, he would com- 
municate with eight or ten other members, and they met 
together and conferred in some secluded spot in the forest. 
They laid their guns crosswise in a pile on the ground 
and over these the men clasped hands and took a solemn 
oath of loyalty and secrecy. The oath stipulated that any 
member revealing the watchwords or plans of the society 
should be shot, the executioner to be chosen by the leader 
of the particular band of which the traitor was a member. 
After the first meeting the members separated and forth- 


with took steps to augment their forces. They knew, of 
course, all their old comrades and every likely freshman, 
and gradually the band increased in numbers until there 
were sufficient to begin operations. The whole of these 
preliminaries were carried through with the utmost secrecy 
under cover of darkness ; nothing whatever could be done 
by daylight. A sufficient number having been recruited 
they proceeded to waylay travellers and market women, 
and entered upon a course of systematic pillage, inspiring 
such fear that none dared report his losses openly. 

It was a safe and quick method of acquiring property, 
and hence, within three months of the original gathering 
practically every able-bodied man in the locality was an 
active member of the society. Their main movements 
were still carried on during the hours of darkness, wild, 
wet and intensely dark nights being usually chosen for 
their nefarious purposes. Should the men of any town 
refuse to join in the movement the members made it their 
special business to persecute the inhabitants of it. 

Before any really serious expedition was undertaken 
the raiders had recourse to the inevitable medicine in 
order to safeguard themselves against the bullets of those 
whom they attacked. The men whitened their bodies 
with chalk and thus were able to recognise fellow-members 
in the darkness and avoid fighting with their confederates. 
When on the war-path the company marched in procession, 
the leader bearing the calabash containing the medicine 
which was to protect the party from the guns of the enemy. 
In the centre were the buglers, i.e. those who sounded 
the calls on the " akpelle." This is a long cucumber-shaped 
calabash with both ends cut off and a blow-hole provided 
in the middle. With it a series of notes or calls were 
blown, as with a bugle. 

The force worked its way towards the town selected 
for attack and fell upon it suddenly, driving out the 
inhabitants and taking full possession of the place. The 
invaders quickly made their position secure and laid hands 
on all the foodstuff they could discover, cows, goats, yams 
and other possessions ; following this up by a systematic 
looting of the town at their leisure. They manifested no 


inclination to depart until supplies showed signs of run- 
ning out ; sometimes they settled down and their occupa- 
tion extended over a month. 

The wives of the members of the Ekumeku society 
enjoyed certain privileges ; they came under the protection 
of the society and were free from molestation when passing 
to and from market. When the time was considered 
opportune the Ndi-Ekumeku abandoned all pretence of 
concealment and proceeded to rob and plunder in open 
daylight. Each member provided his own equipment, 
which consisted of two bottles (calabashes) of powder, his 
gun and cutlass, and they foregathered at an appointed 
town. The king of the town sat in the place of honour, 
supported on each side by the chiefs from all the towns 
represented, sitting on their stools. Together they acted 
as a council and drew up the programme for future opera- 
tions. At the close of the deliberations the young braves 
(ikolobia) had their turn and rushed about, firing off guns, 
whilst the buglers surpassed themselves ; in fact, the 
whole assembly resolved itself into a general display 
before the natives of the town. The men yelled out 
challenges, and by gesture demonstrated the kind of treat- 
ment that awaited any who should dare to defy them. 
After these manoeuvres the king presented two slaves, 
one of each sex, to those who had condescended to honour 
his town with their company. The rendezvous was 
regularly changed, but the general programme was fol- 
lowed with but little variation. 

It is not so easy to give a detailed account of the Abams 
on the eastern side of the Niger. Their expeditions were 
not spontaneous affairs as with the Ekumeku ; they were 
in a state of perpetual readiness for war whenever it was 
made worth their while, and, consequently, the whole 
country was terrorised, inasmuch as the people were in a 
continual state of nervousness, not knowing when a raiding 
party might suddenly burst upon them. They were the 
dreaded enemies of the adults and bogies to the young, 
naughty children being silenced by their elders under the 
threat that the Abams would come and eat them up. 

The Abams were controlled by the Aros, and all trans- 


actions had to be negotiated through them. Any town 
having a dispute with another, and wishing to wreak 
summary vengeance upon it, applied through the Aro 
agents for a force of these mercenaries. Prior to opera- 
tions being undertaken a sum of money had to be paid in 
advance to the Abams, and, in addition, the lands of all 
captives became their property. These warriors used no 
firearms whatever ; they depended on their cutlasses, 
their reputation, and their sudden onslaughts. Actually 
they themselves were out for heads, and they were intensely 
insistent on the fulfilment of this part of the contract. 
The bands were always ready to ravage a town, and the 
Aros, with their aid, gained complete control over the 
country. They moved up from the south, established 
large setttlements amongst the Ibos, and became virtual 
owners of large areas of land. They prospered in their 
enterprises and added to their incomes by wholesale and 
retail dealing in slaves. As long as they were able to 
retain and control these bands of mercenaries the Aros 
remained all-powerful, particularly in the country lying 
between Akwa in the north, and Aro-Chuku in the south. 
Their agents were also in touch with the coast, and were in 
a position to purchase firearms and ammunition such as 
no ordinary native could procure, and hence they were 
well equipped for the task of maintaining their superiority 
over the Ibos. The firearms were for their own use, not 
for the Abams. 

With the advent of the British Government the Aros 
have received a knock-out blow, from which their chances 
of recovery appear to be rather remote. It remains to be 
seen whether they will succeed as legitimate traders. 
Certainly a large number have come down in the world 
during the last few years, having been deprived of their old 
sources of income. 

Their chief reasons for making war were either revenge 
or plunder, pure and simple. On the Asaba side all 
available property was looted, and any captives taken 
were condemned to slavery and all that this fate entailed, 
including human sacrifice ; but there is no record of 
cannibalism being practised in that district. Knowing 


the danger to property from marauding bands, the people 
usually stored their yams in some hidden retreat in the 
forest, in the hope that they might remain undiscovered 
by the robbers. With the Abams on the eastern side the 
heads of victims were in great demand as trophies, and 
the man-slayer was saluted publicly as " obu madu " (he 
kills men). Living captives were disposed of as slaves, 
offered as human sacrifices and also killed for food, 
cannibalism being general in the eastern districts. 

In a great number of Ibo towns may be seen towers 
rising some thirty feet above ground -level. They are 
circular or square according to fancy, the former being 
exceptionally well-turned structures. The walls are of 
clay built up in very thick courses to withstand wind and 
the wash from the torrential rains. An upper floor is 
provided which is reached by a ladder placed inside the 
building. Outside the walls are decorated with rows of 
empty gin bottles ; the tower rises well above the com- 
pound, but being very deficient in window openings or 
loopholes it does not command a view of the situation. 
In the upper chamber the owner stores his treasures ; he 
frequently sleeps therein, drawing up the ladder after him 
should he have the slightest suspicion that thieves are in 
the neighbourhood. Ordinarily the room is just a store- 
house, but in troublous times the owner defends his castle 
as the last refuge for himself and his goods. 

A very favourite method of bringing destruction and 
confusion upon an attacking force was by the use of 
concealed pitfalls (awbu). Surrounding each town was a 
belt of dense bush, and all paths leading through this were 
tortuous and intricate. Alongside these paths pits were 
dug and upright spikes embedded in the bottom, on 
which any unfortunate who fell into the hole was impaled. 
Entering a strange town one day, I noticed my guide 
carefully picking his way. I found it expedient to follow 
his example, the path being herring-boned on either side 
with pitfalls. 

Outside the towns, clear of the thick bush, earthworks 
(ekpe) were constructed. These were thrown up in the 
form of embankments, with a trench on the defensive side. 


The base was from six to eight feet thick, tapering up to a 
conical ridge, and they were just high enough to afford 
comfortable cover from bullets, but not so high that a 
man could not easily peep over the top to observe the 
enemy. The earthworks were often laid out in parallel lines, 
thus enabling the defenders to fall back from one line of 
defence to another, without unduly exposing themselves. 

Some towns were surrounded by moats — dry for the 
greater part of the year. Usually they were from eight to 
ten feet deep and about the same in width. Single planks 
made from split palm trees were thrown over to serve as 
bridges where paths crossed the moat, it being an easy 
task to remove these quickly. Normally the obstacle was 
not a serious affair to tackle and could be crossed without 
much effort, bridge or no bridge, but with sturdy, deter- 
mined fighters in possession of the moat, the forcing of a 
passage across it was a formidable task. 

The crossing of the moat by so slender a bridge had its 
dangers in times of peace, the plank of split palm tree 
sometimes breaking under the weight of a man. One even- 
ing I was called upon to stitch up a very nasty wound on 
a man's arm. He was a big burly fellow and when crossing 
the moat the plank broke ; one part fell with him, the 
other remained embedded in the bank. As he fell his arm 
caught on the jagged end and the sharp edges pierced the 
upper part of his arm to the bone, whilst the drag of his 
fall rolled the flesh up to the top of his shoulder. Happily 
we were able to make quite a respectable job of patching 
up the lacerated flesh. 



In the study of a primitive people there is probably no 
more debatable subject than that of their religious 
beliefs. To what extent a knowledge of the Science of 
Comparative Religion will help the investigator in pro- 
secuting his researches, or whether such preparation may, 
contrariwise, be rather a hindrance in ascertaining facts, 
depends upon the inquirer himself. It is certain, however, 
that unless unlimited time and patience can be devoted 
to the subject, together with much cross-questioning, 
backed up by continual observation, no European can 
ever fathom the depths of the native mind. A knowledge 
of other religions will lead to confusion should there be any 
attempt to hurry matters, and any sort of antecedent 
opinion revealed by the inquirer will assuredly result in his 
being led astray in his conclusions. 

The constitution of the native mind is such that a West 
African— at any rate, an Ibo — will supply an answer 
" yes " or " no " exactly in accordance with what he 
imagines the question expects. I have known cases where 
utterly false answers have been given simply in order to 
bring to an end a tiresome catechism. Statements have 
been accepted as truth which were the very antithesis of 
the actual facts. I have on occasion remonstrated with 
interpreters for giving inaccurate information. I have 
known such to answer a question in the negative, and 
then upon being further pressed, " But do not the people 
do this or that ? " the original reply has been completely 
reversed. Whenever the interpreter was rebuked for 
leading the inquirer to a false conclusion the excuse in- 
variably was, " But that was what he wanted ; his opinion 



was already formed, and who am I that I should contradict 
the white man ? " 

It is no uncommon practice to charge missionaries with 
a lack of respect for native religions ; especially is this done 
by travellers who have the pen of a ready writer but who 
cannot wait to investigate. It stands to reason that it is 
part of the missionary's business to understand the mind 
of the native, just as much as it is the soldier's aim to 
reconnoitre the enemy's position. The missionary cannot 
be the indiscriminating, unsympathetic person. Were he 
such he could never endure the long years of service ; 
nor, indeed, would he be tolerated by the natives for a 
week if he put himself in open and wanton antagonism to 
their beliefs. Mr. E. D. Morel in his book, Nigeria : its 
People and its Problems 1 is at considerable pains to 
point out the alleged contempt of a missionary towards 
a native ju-ju. For one thing he does not inform his 
readers whether that particular ju-ju was inhabited by the 
" spirit " at the time or not ? This is a point which has 
great significance. It is similar to a church in England 
which is in daily use as compared with a cluster of ruined 
walls. The latter may, perchance, be restored and become 
a real church once more, but for the nonce they are ruins, 
the abode of bats and owls. In the instance quoted it is 
worth noting that the missionary charged was one who 
had spent some twenty years in the country, and whose 

1 It is difficult to reconcile the allegations against missionaries with the 
actual state of affairs. Sixty years ago, the foremost West African of his 
time, versed in the deep things of the native mind, rebutted the charges 
with such compelling logic that ignorance alone could resurrect them, 
Surely the following words must commend themselves to aU fair-minded 
students : — " Had we been obstinate in the public exposure of their 
national superstitions, Christian Missionaries would long ago have been 
turned out of the country, the converts put to death, and the country 
would have been long barred against the messengers of salvation. But 
what is the result of the caution and prudence exercised ? The whole 
country is opened to us, stations are occupied in different directions, 
churches ere built, congregations are collected, and converts are numbered 
by hundreds (now thousands, 1917) ; and yet we do not make the least 
compromise with their superstitions ; but, on the contrary, we are weaken • 
ing its power, though without open violence, and, in generations to come, 
it will die a natural death." — Rev. S. Crowther writing of the Yoruba 
Mission, 1857. 


name is a household word amongst the natives of the 
district. At least, those chiefly concerned do not accuse 
him of sacrilege or disrespect in regard to the local beliefs. 

But if one is really desirous of tracing the sources of 
so-called disrespect he must look for them amongst the 
natives themselves. They are the people who manifest 
the most utter neglect of and even contempt for many 
of their gods. On every side one sees ruins of shrines either 
simply left to decay or from which the " spirit " has been 
driven out. On one occasion a deputation of men from a 
neighbouring village waited upon me with the request that 
I would come and cast out their god Ngenne, on the 
ground that too many people had died in the village in 
spite of the many sacrifices offered. The people had come 
to the conclusion that their Ngenne was too much of a 
knave. Either he had no power to avert disaster, or he 
was of such a sour disposition that nothing would satisfy 
him, although they had almost beggared themselves in 
providing sacrifices. 

I inquired of them why, if this was their firm conviction, 
they did not destroy such a spiteful god ? They were 
anxious to do so, they replied, but declared that the task 
was beyond their powers ; the prospect made them 
shudder. When I rounded upon them for begging me to do 
what they were afraid to attempt, and told them that I 
had no wish to be eaten by the " spirit," or be overwhelmed 
with disaster, they were emphatic in their declaration 
that Ngenne could not exercise power over one who 
prayed to Chukwu (the Supreme Being). These people 
were pure heathen, wholly untouched by Christian teach- 
ing or influence. For the time being I refused to accede 
to their request, and at a later date I again put them off ; 
I thought that they might be acting upon impulse owing 
to excitement, and might afterwards repent of their hasty 
deed. Three months passed and then they came again, 
a stronger deputation than the preceding ones. I decided 
to carry out their wishes. The Ngenne figure was installed 
at one end of a hut set apart for the purpose, and his "spirit " 
dwelt in a sacred tree just outside. The Ngenne was a 
wooden block, two feet high, roughly carved to represent 


a man ; this was draped with streamers of filthy cloth, 
and was thickly coated with a black shiny mass of con- 
gealed blood. Near by was a basket and a bowl containing 
sticks of chalk, and there was a large wicker arrangement 
into which hundreds of wing feathers of fowls had been 
stuck. In a prominent place was Ngenne's spear and the 
two iron bells which are the special symbols of this god. 
My boys and I removed the whole collection as requested, 
in open daylight, with all the folk gathered round, and as 
we moved away the men cheered with delight. They 
challenged the god ; threw dust in the air to express their 
contempt, and defied him to do his worst, and then they 
took their matchets and made such an onslaught on the 
sacred tree that within a few minutes it was hacked into 

Everything else was preserved intact and deposited on 
the front verandah of my house, where it remained for some 
nine months visible to all. Should the people regret what 
they had done, they could reinstate their Ngenne ; but 
they have never repented, and eventually a native des- 
troyed by fire all that the white ants had left. It may be 
that at some future time a medicine-man will be com- 
missioned to consecrate another Ngenne ; but for the old 
abandoned one there is not one iota of respect. When the 
spirit withdraws, or is driven out of a ju-ju, the material 
and visible parts are no more valuable, or worthy of honour, 
than the shell of a nut after the kernel has been extracted. 

Amongst the Ibo people there is a distinct recognition 
of a Supreme Being — beneficent in character — who is 
above every other spirit, good or evil. He is believed to 
control all things in heaven and earth, and dispenses 
rewards and punishments according to merit. Anything 
that occurs, for which no visible explanation is forth- 
coming, is attributed either to Him or His eternal enemy 
Ekwensu, i.e. the Devil. But Chukwu (as He is called) is 
supreme, and at His service are many ministering spirits 
whose sole business it is to fulfil His commands. It is 
interesting to note that Death is spoken of as as one of the 
servants of God. 

This Supreme Being is designated by different rites, the 


chief of which are Chukwu ( =Chi-ukwu) i.e. the Great 
God ; Olisa bulu uwa, usually shortened to Osebulu uwa ; 
or Olisa simply. The underlying idea of the name is, 
" God who fashions the world." In the southern districts 
Chineke (God the Creator) is the prevailing name. 

The knowledge of the Supreme Being is practically 
confined to the name and the interpretation thereof. 
Besides the recognition of a Beneficent Being, there is a 
profound belief in an Evil Spirit. The two are eternally 
opposed to each other, each striving to influence man- 
kind for good or evil, but Chukwu is always classed as 
superior to Ekwensu. 

Certain actions such as murder, theft, and adultery, are 
esteemed offences against God, as well as against man. 
The natives hold that in committing such offences, a man 
is acting contrary to the will of God and the appropriate 
punishment will assuredly follow. Should the actual 
sinner escape, his descendants must bear the burden. 
The fear of retribution, however, is not profound ; it cer- 
tainly does not act as a deterrent to evil. Though such 
deeds are reckoned as ajaw-awlu (bad works) there is no 
actual " sting " in the committal of them. The greatest of 
all sins is " to be found out," and any man who works so 
clumsily that his misdeeds are discovered deserves all the 
punishment that comes to him. 

In spite of this theoretical knowledge of good and evil, 
there is little compunction in committing theft, murder 
and other misdemeanours. The lure of a title leads a man 
to steal in order to raise the necessary funds to acquire it. 
The same motive leads to murder, human heads being 
emblems of a man's prowess. Human nature is much the 
same all the world over, and amongst the Ibos, as elsewhere, 
evil deeds are mostly the outcome of selfish desires. 

Some sins stand before others in magnitude. The 
recognised punishment for murder, the stealing of seed- 
yams after they have been planted, and adultery with the 
wife of a chief, was death. In the case of the last the man 
is held responsible ; they might both be put to death, 
or the woman may be forgiven — the man never. After 
these, in importance, come other kinds of theft, and the 


usual catalogue of offences either against the individual 
or society, and in each case the punishment is made to 
fit the crime. All are accounted as bad work or ulu-ani 
(the defiling of the land). There are many other things 
which are regarded as sinful, e.g. the breaking or removal 
of a man's god and treachery, whereas, on the other hand, 
cannibalism, human sacrifices, infanticide, deceit, lying 
and such-like are matters of indifference ; they certainly 
are not of the nature of sin. 

In dealing with "Objects of Worship," especially those 
which are more or less public property, some limitation 
must be put upon the word " worship " since it is very 
seldom that any object is actually " worshipped," whilst 
there are a vast variety and number of objects — animate 
and inanimate — which are held as " sacred." These are 
reverenced from fear of unexpected consequences should 
they be injured or destroyed rather than from any desire 
to worship them. Hence one sees in every town and village 
these sacred objects, cows, sheep, monkeys, fish, snakes, 
tortoises and human beings, together with rocks, trees and 
streams. The animals are fearless of man, wandering 
where they please without molestation. In a few instances 
only are gifts presented to these objects, consisting of 
a kola nut, a few cowrie shells, a small piece of salt, chalk, 
an egg or a young chick, and these are mostly offered to 
trees and streams. 

The custom of holding certain waters to be sacred 
appears to be common throughout the Ibo country. 
It has been thought that the practice has arisen on account 
of the water itself, without which there would be death 
and desolation ; but this is probably a mistake, for there 
is little doubt but that it is the fish which are reverenced 
rather than the water. These fish (and sometimes croco- 
diles) are commonly spoken of as " our mother " (nne-ayi), 
the idea being, that they are the protectors of the people. 
This appears to savour somewhat of ancestor worship. 
No such fish may be taken from the stream ; should one 
by chance find its way into a water-pot it must be restored 
as quickly as possible to its native haunts. If a woman 
inadvertently takes one home in her pot, she must return 


with it to the stream without delay, and make an offering, 
seeking forgiveness on the plea that the fish was taken 
unwittingly. The result is that the fish are quite tame 
and I have seen a shoal of twenty or thirty together, 
varying in length up to fifteen or sixteen inches, swimming 
quite unconcernedly between the legs of the women filling 
their pots. 

Over the greater part, if not over the whole, of the Ibo 
country the python is sacred, more especially the smaller 
species called ekke-ntu. These likewise are referred to as 
" our mother," and to injure one is a very serious offence. 
If a man has the misfortune to kill one accidentally be will 
mourn for a year and abstain from shaving his head. 
Monkeys, birds and various animals are treated similarly 
in the different districts where they are held sacred. 

If a person be injured by any sacred animal or reptile, 
or by the fall of a sacred tree or stone, it is inferred that 
some grievous offence has been committed, and that nne- 
ayi is meting out an appropriate punishment to the trans- 
gressor. Favour can be regained only by resort to the 
medicine-man, who will advise as to the sacrifice to be 
offered in the circumstances. If the injury should be fatal, 
as it may be when a tree falls upon a person, then the 
assumption is that the offence was such as could only be 
atoned for by the god thus exercising his powers of ven- 
geance. The unfortunate person is left to his or her fate, 
a crowd of spectators probably looking on with callous 
indifference, in the belief that the sufferer is but getting 
his just deserts, and that to attempt a rescue, or to inter- 
fere in any way would be but to bring retribution upon 

We turn now to the private and family gods — those 
which are kept within the house and compound and 
which have a much closer connection with the individual 
than those which are public and general. It must be again 
emphasised that no object in itself is worshipped by the 
Ibos ; it is sacred only as the habitation of a spirit. It 
has only that relative sanctity to which it is entitled as 
the shrine or home of a certain spirit. Very seldom are 
the objects themselves called upon by name ; the petitions 


are invariably addressed to the igaw-maw, i.e. the spirits. 
Occasionally the god Ikenga is invoked under the title of 
Ikenga Oweawfa, i.e. " he who splits the shield (of the 
enemy), hence the strongest one : the bravest one." 
Under certain conditions this spirit -worship exercises a 
tremendous influence over the lives of the natives. 

Each house contains many sacred objects, but they 
have not all equal significance, for among the " gods many 
and lords many " there are higher and lower degrees of 
importance. The most universal of these household gods, 
and that which is given first rank, is the Ikenga, and no 
house may be without one. It is the first god sought by a 
young man at the beginning of his career, and it is the one 
to which he looks for good luck in all his enterprises. 

The Ikenga is always carved from a solid block of 
uroko-wood. The height varies from one foot upwards. 
It represents a man seated upon a stool ; two long 
horns, curling backwards, are the symbol of strength 
and power. Many examples have a long-stemmed pipe 
in the mouth, the bowl of the pipe resting on the 
knees. The right hand of the larger Ikengas grasps a 
sword, point upwards, whilst the left holds the head of 
the conquered enemy — this again denoting strength. 
Occasionally the horns project from a headless trunk and 
no limbs are provided. Such are simply of cheaper design. 
For religious purposes all figures of Ikenga stand equal. 
As a rule only the head of the household may offer sacrifice 
to them ; should he be prevented for any reason the 
awkpala (next of kin, male) officiates in his stead. 

A place is set apart for the alusi (gods) which are 
memorials to departed relatives. The number of these is 
fixed by the rank and family of the householder. If he 
can claim relationship to a deceased chief, then he must 
consecrate an alusi to represent that chief. But every 
man must have some alusi to commemorate certain re- 
latives. These consist merely of a piece of wood from ten 
to twelve inches long cut from a sacred ebwo tree and 
merely stripped of its bark. A man will never put one of 
these to represent a woman ; on the other hand a woman 
may dedicate one such alusi in order to show due reverence 


to her mother's spirit. The memorial set up by a man for 
a female relative is in the form of a cone of clay, upon the 
top of which is placed the neck of a water-pot. One of 
these is made and dedicated upon the death of a mother, 
wife or daughter. 

One alusi is consecrated to Chi the Supreme Being, 
and this is the only one to which direct sacrifice is occasion- 
ally offered. 

In addition to the above there are many objects which 
are held sacred, and others commonly spoken of as fetishes. 
They consist of anything which appeals to the spiritual 
imagination of the native, but all have their measure of 
reverence due to them. 

Near the kitchen will be found the ekwu, little cones of 
clay rubbed with chalk, set up by the women to counteract 
any designs to poison the food during the process of 
cooking. At another spot is the agwu, a pot fixed in the 
ground and encircled with sticks. The pot contains a 
few feathers from a young chick and some chalk. The 
special function of the agwu is to protect the owner in 
every way, either when working, playing or fighting. 
There are many more fetishes ; numbers of them are pecu- 
liar to the house only, and are set up for special reasons 
on the advice of the dibia (priest). Each profession has 
its patron gods, as farming, hunting and blacksmithing, 
and the richer women have theirs also to assist them in 
their trading ventures. 

It is interesting to note whence the alusi are obtained, 
and by what process they are made into gods or rather 
the habitation of spirits. It will be observed that the 
spiritual perception of the native is very pronounced, 
and this is a trait which the average European finds 
exceedingly difficult to comprehend and appreciate. With 
the exception of Ikenga the majority of the fetishes are 
fashioned by their owners ; the Ikenga is carved, and the 
services of a craftsman are needed, otherwise it likewise 
would be home-made. It may be purchased in the ordinary 
way in the open market or by private treaty, the latter 
method being followed when extra or special features are 
required. Up to this point it remains a piece of mer- 


chandise, no ceremony whatever having been performed to 
consecrate it to a religious use. The buyer, himself, sets 
it up in his house, pours out a libation of palm wine or 
gin before it, and offers kola ; and from henceforth it has 
the sanctity of, and is reverenced as an alusi (ju-ju). 

There are no alusi to represent specific forms of disease, 
such as small-pox, but certain ceremonies are observed for 
driving away or staving off sickness generally. At Onitsha, 
for instance, on a day appointed, the inhabitants of a 
village gather together, each person carrying a firebrand. 
To the strains of continuous chanting the firebrands are 
borne away and deposited in a prescribed place. When 
this ceremony has been performed by each of the villages 
the king is called upon to conduct the final observances. 
On this occasion the rallying place is the king's courtyard, 
and his attendants are the most prominent officials. 
Again firebrands are used, the torch-bearers form up in 
procession and, with incessant beating of tom-toms and 
chanting, march to the riverside where the firebrands are 
solemnly cast into the water. This ceremony is observed 
annually to ward off all manner of sicknesses, and is known 
by the name Awsaw Ekwulo. 

There does not appear to be any actual Devil Worship 
among the Ibos. Two terms are used to indicate the 
authors of evil, Ekwensu and Obunike. Ekwensu means 
the Evil One in a general way, the father of all wickedness, 
anywhere and everywhere. There is no idol to represent 
him, nor is sacrifice offered directly to him. Obunike 
refers to a deceased companion who is able to work mis- 
chief upon those left behind, but of more general significance 
appears to be " the demon of ill-fortune." There is an 
idol to represent this spirit, and sacrifices are offered 
regularly to him. In offering sacrifice to Obunike the 
worshipper hopes to propitiate Ekwensu also. 

In most of the towns on the western side of the river, 
three days in the year are set apart as Ekwensu' s Days. 
for the express purpose of extolling the devil and all his 
works. 1 During the festival the people indulge freely in 

1 The custom was practised at Onitsha a generation or two ago certainly. 
The Rev. J. Taylor refers to it in his Journal, September 29th, 1858. 


all kinds of excess without the imposition of any restraint. 
In the old days this unrestricted licence usually led to 
serious feuds followed by bloodshed. The advent of the 
Missionary and the Government has, at least, put an end 
to bloodshed, but the people (heathen) still give them- 
selves up to excessive indulgence during the times ap- 
pointed to do honour to Ekwensu. 



The idea of sacrifice amongst the Ibo people is very 
similar to that of many other primitive peoples, i.e. sacri- 
fices are offered, not from any desire to give, but because 
of the fear that, unless they are offered their lives and 
interests will be blighted. Every man must contribute 
his share in public festivals, and all join in the subsequent 
carousals, but no man offers sacrifice privately until he 
feels compelled to do so by adverse circumstances ; it is 
never a voluntary offering. Sacrifice is offered solely to 
appease a malignant god whose imperative demands are 
indicated by the god's executive, i.e. the medicine-man 

The natives are very clear in discriminating between 
what are " proper " sacrifices and what are not, a distinc- 
tion which the foreigner does not easily perceive. In the 
native's estimation some specific gifts will be acknow- 
ledged as sacrificial offerings, whilst in other cases of 
dedicated objects the idea of sacrifice is absent, whereas 
to the English mind both forms appear to be governed by 
the same underlying principle. Food offered to certain 
spirits in the prescribed manner becomes ex opere operato 
a real and proper sacrifice. On the other hand, birds, 
beasts and even human beings, when presented to the 
ilaw maw (familiar spirits) have no other significance 
than merely " making a feast " in honour of those " spirits" 
in whose existence the people have such a profound belief. 
There is a further distinguishing feature which immedi- 
ately declares the nature of the sacrifice. In " proper " 
acrifices the food offered is never consumed by any 
person, whereas that which is presented to the ilaw maw 



is always subsequently eaten by those present at the 

According to the Ibo, sacrifice is imperative in the case 
of " strange " spirits only, i.e. other than those he has 
been accustomed to acknowledge ; spirits shrouded in 
mystery whom he cannot manage, and whom he holds 
responsible for his present sickness or other trouble. 
He cannot locate the spirits ; he has no conception how 
or why they persecute him, yet he is convinced that they 
are the authors of all the evils that overtake him. In his 
distress he consults the dibia (medicine-man) and, acting 
on his advice, endeavours to appease the spirits by per- 
forming ichu-aja, lit. to drive evil. 

For this observance of ichu-aja no idol (alusi) is ever 
used. The only semblance to one is the Awfaw, so named 
merely because it is a stick from the awfaw tree. This 
stick is held in the hand and has a double significance : 
first, Awfaw is considered to possess the functions of a 
mediator between the spirits and the man, and secondly, 
on it the man swears that he is innocent of wrongdoing 
against others. The offering always consists of a selection 
from the following : food, strips of cloth, a gin bottle, a 
lizard, a chicken or a kid, and many other things, the 
choice being made according to the instructions of the 

Ichu-aja is performed on a few other special occasions. 
It is prescribed when a person has succumbed to a malig- 
nant disease, such as leprosy or smallpox, in the case of 
suicides, or when a man dies during the period of mourn- 
ing for his wife. As noted in Chapter X the corpses of 
such people are borne outside the town for disposal in the 
ajaw-awfia (bad bush). The method adopted for sacrifice 
in these cases is as follows : no particular preparations are 
made, the offering is simply placed in a piece of banana 
(tree) stem cut roughly to form a dish ; sometimes, a 
wooden platter serves the purpose or a small calabash. 
This is carried beyond the boundaries of the village and 
deposited by the side of one of the paths leading to the place 
of burial, usually at the point where two paths meet, and 
designated by the native as "abu-itaw." The person who 

The "Maw" (Spirit) of a Girl 

The two attendants announce her coming, and generally look after her interests. 


conveys the sacrifice must maintain strict silence — he may 
not even salute another — until the offering has been laid 
somewhere near what is supposed to be the dwelling-place of 
the troublesome spirit. Ichu-aja is also observed before 
crossing water, in order to ensure a safe passage. When 
sacrifice is necessary in consequence of alu (abomination), 
the ceremonies connected therewith are, wherever possible, 
fulfilled by a priest from Nri. In all other circumstances 
the person himself assumes the role of priest and makes 
the offering, but always in strict accordance with the 
injunctions of the dibia, who first diagnoses the source of 
the trouble and then prescribes the offering. It will be 
observed that, in what is considered " proper " sacrifice, 
the shedding of blood is somewhat rare. It is well to 
emphasise the fact that the Ibo never offers sacrifice until 
forced to do so by adversity ; except at such times there 
is an utter neglect of sacrifice. This is a point which 
writers unversed in native ways should bear in mind 
before making rash statements concerning the attitude 
of missionaries and others towards the religion of the 

We next examine the much more prevalent practice of 
offering gifts before the ilaw-maw. This is akin to what is 
commonly termed a " peace offering." It is really a feast 
of good fellowship, a feast of fat things wherewith to make 
glad the hearts of men in this world, and the spirits dwelling 
in the underworld also, e.g. in the case of sickness such 
a festival may be kept in order to promote kindly feelings 
towards the sufferer, all those partaking of the feast 
signifying by their action that they are free from any 
evil intention towards him. The spirits of dead relatives 
are also coaxed into a genial mood by offerings of meat and 
drink, and their aid invoked to restore the sick one to health 
and strength. 

In such a case the following is the mode of procedure : 
a member of the family seeks a consultation with the dibia. 
Here we must not forget that, for the most part, the natives 
do not attribute sickness to natural causes, but are con- 
vinced that it arises from the spiteful attentions of an 
evil spirit, or through the agency of witchcraft, or from 


poison. The dibia puts his visitor through a catechism 
and, having ascertained all he can as to the nature of the 
malady, he next proceeds to consult his charms. He is 
now able to announce what he considers to be the cause 
of the sickness. In the majority of cases the source of 
the evil is traced to a woman ! This woman will be forth- 
with accused of witchcraft, and in past days such an one 
was forced to undergo a trial by ordeal ; she must drink 
the cup of poison (awrachi, sass-wood). Practically all 
condemned to this test died quickly, for it was an exceed- 
ingly rare thing for a woman to be in a position to bribe 
the one appointed to administer the cup lavishly enough 
to induce him either to omit the poison altogether, or to 
smuggle in the antidote. 

Having found out the cause of the sickness, the dibia 
states what the offering is to be and whether the ceremony 
shall be ichu-aja, i.e. a " proper " sacrifice, or a feast to 
the ilaw-maw. 

Assuming that it is the latter, the necessary arrange- 
ments will be made without delay. At the time appointed 
the alusi (idols) are brought out of the house, and placed 
in order of rank. In the central and most prominent 
position is the Ikenga, and he is flanked on the one side by 
the piece of ebwo wood representing the deceased father 
of the man, and on the other by the stick representing 
Chi (his own guardian spirit). Around these three the 
minor alusi are grouped ; all being in due order water is 
poured over the alusi that they may " wash their hands " 
before eating. Kola nut is then formally presented, fol- 
lowed by pounded yam dipped in soup, a portion being 
placed upon the head of each alusi. For such ceremonies 
each wife supplies her share of the food required. The 
food having been duly offered, and the essence thereof 
consumed by the spirits, a child comes forward and takes 
the food from the head of one of the alusi and eats it. 
Any other children present follow the example of the first ; 
they may eat it immediately or take it away and re -divide 
it amongst themselves at their leisure. The hunger of the 
spirits having thus been appeased, they are refreshed with 
palm wine or gin. A small quantity is poured over the 


alusi, and, the company present drink the remainder. 
Finally, water is again poured over them to enable the 
spirits to " wash their hands " after eating. 

The ceremony, as an institution, is observed on the five 
fixed festivals of the year. All other occasions, as noted 
above, are the forced result of sickness, witchcraft and 
other untoward circumstances. The five fixed festivals 
are : 

1. Aja-Chi. — The sacrifice to one's chief guardian spirit, 

commonly spoken of as " God." Chi is, however, 
not to be confused with Chukwu, the Great, Supreme 

2. Iwa-ji. — The feast of new yam : lit. the breaking of 

the yam — Harvest Thanksgiving. 

3. Ikelli-be-ji. — A feast in which the yam must not be 

pounded, but cut into chunks. 

4. Osisi-ibe. — A sort of cook's festival ; a feast to the 

spirits who mount guard over the cooking utensils 
and the food to prevent poison from being put into 

5. Ife-ji-awku. — A Harvest Festival connected with the 

farm. An offering to the spirits of the farm, with 
special reference to the presiding deity of the yam 
crop. The fowls to be offered must all be taken to 
the farm and slain there, the blood being sprinkled 
on a few choice yams. When the ceremony is com- 
pleted everything is taken home ; the yams are laid 
up before the alusi, together with all farming imple- 
ments, hoes, and matchets ; the carcases of the 
fowls are used up in a big bout of feasting. The 
whole town or village joins in this feast on the day 

There is a further clear and definite line of demarcation 
between sacrifice proper and the " peace offering." In 
the case of the former (ichu-aja) it is open to every man to 
offer the sacrifice, rich and poor alike, as its observance 


costs little or nothing, but offering to the ilaw-maw is 
arbitrarily restricted to men of means who have the 
wherewithal to provide the necessary feast ; the richer the 
man, of course, the more elaborate the programme, the 
liner the feast, and the more ingratiating to both the 
quick and the dead. 

Some ten years back I was the guest of a prominent chief 
at a town seventy miles east of Onitsha, and whilst residing 
in his compound I had the good fortune to be a spectator 
all through the observance of an offering to the ilaw-maw. 
I was left quite undisturbed and was able to watch and 
note events closely. 

The chief was old, wrinkled, and troubled with rheu- 
matics ; he was seeking the cause of this complaint and 
the means for its removal. Many sacrifices had been 
offered, but all to no purpose, and now, as a last resort, 
the dibia had fixed upon one of the younger wives as 
the author of his pains. With this pronouncement 
were also directions for the sacrifice necessary to secure 

On the day appointed a space was swept at the base of 
a small sacred tree growing in the compound immediately 
before the chief's own hut. In this space the alusi (idols) 
were ranged in due order. The next item on the programme 
was an exciting chase after a hen which, when caught, 
was tied by the leg to another tree with a cord long enough 
for the fowl to be waved freely over the alusi. 

The preparations were now complete, and the sick man's 
elder brother (the awkpala — the family priest) came 
forward and took up his position, sitting on a low stool 
before the alusi. Amongst the assembled spectators con- 
versation was general until the awkpala began his oration 
to the spirits (ilaw-maw), when there was complete silence, 
all being intent on hearing every word he uttered. It was 
a wonderful oration, full of eloquence, and gradually work- 
ing up to intense emotion ; nobody could have been un- 
moved by the whole-souled earnestness of his appeal to 
the spirits. Starting in a low key, his voice increased in 
passionate entreaty until he was crying out at the top of 
his voice, his words all the time being punctuated by 


gestures, swaying of the body, and swinging of his arms. 
In the course of his oration he called upon the spirits to 
exercise their saving powers ; to send relief to the afflicted 
one, and to execute justice upon the wicked author of 
the sickness. 

At this point the duties of the elder brother were con- 
cluded, and he made preparations to withdraw, transfer- 
ring his office to a younger brother. The old man took 
the right hand of the younger and placed it on the central 
alusi, and in this manner delegated the priestly functions. 
He then withdrew with great dignity amidst a profound 

As soon as he had departed the wives of the sick chief 
came to the front, they all being directly concerned in the 
business. Each, in turn, took the captive fowl in her 
hands, and, standing before the alusi and turning towards 
the assembly, made a solemn declaration of innocence; 
then she waved the fowl over the alusi and called upon 
the spirits to bear witness of her non -complicity in bringing 
sickness upon her husband. Were she not speaking the 
truth let the gods do so unto her, and more also, according 
to her deserts. All the wives acted in this manner with the 
exception of the one accused of causing the sickness. This 
particular one, in her turn, stepped to the front of the 
alusi and made a statement somewhat similar to the others, 
but refrained from touching the fowl. In the case of the 
first women it was a question of " let my life be as this 
fowl's life if I be guilty of this offence." The veracity of 
the last wife being in doubt, she was not in a position to 
swear positive innocence ; all she could affirm was that 
were she guilty she had trespassed unwittingly. 

Confession is not infrequently made by women of being 
the primal cause of a husband's sickness. This is done, 
the woman fully believing herself guilty, when the sickness 
is pronounced to be the result of ifx (adultery). 

After the last wife had made her statement, the priest 
presented the fowl to the alusi with invocations and 
prayers that the avenging spirits would accept the sacrifice 
now being offered. He, thereupon, took the bird by the 
wings and, with his knife, sawed across its throat so that 


the blood might trickle slowly. Each alusi was sprinkled 
in order of precedence, and then tufts of the smaller 
feathers were plucked from the fowl and stuck to the alusi 
by means of the blood, the wretched bird still alive and 
struggling, until this part of the ceremony was completed. 
The life-blood having ceased to flow, the priest threw the 
carcase several yards from him as a thing of nought, and 
the service ended. 

The dead fowl had scarcely fallen to the ground when 
it was seized by a young man of the crowd who hastily 
began to pluck off the remaining feathers, another, mean- 
while, kindling a fire of grass and twigs. As soon as the 
fire burned freely, the remaining feathers were singed off, 
and then the fowl was hacked to pieces in a most revolting 
manner and the bits held over the fire on skewers to cook. 
This was an affair of but a few minutes, for as soon as the 
flesh was charred with fire and smoke it was pounced upon, 
and after further hacking was consumed by the men 
present ; the women stayed as spectators ; they did not 
partake of the flesh. 

We note that ichu-aja is offered to evil spirits only; 
there is no form of direct sacrifice to the Supreme Being. 
Annually — in July — when food is more scarce than at any 
other time of the year, a feast is held in honour of Chi, and 
this is known as Aja-Chi ; but though the word for sacrifice 
is used it is simply a loose way of using it. The procedure 
is exactly on the lines of any other feast to the ilaw-maw. 
It is not a " proper " sacrifice, but a festival in honour of 
the man's own guardian spirit — the one which is present 
with him at all times and in all places and circumstances. 
This Chi is not to be confused with Chukwu (lit. Chi-Ukwu, 
the Great God, the Supreme Being). 


Probably there is no part of West Africa in which the 
offering of human sacrifices has not been customary at 
some period. Only by the advance of Christianity and 
civilisation and J the power of good government is the 
practice being stamped out. Amongst the Ibos the custom 


was widespread ; life was accounted of little value, es- 
pecially that of the slave and the poor, and the belief in 
the efficacy of human sacrifice was (and amongst the old 
still is) very deep and tenacious. 

The victims were offered either as sacrifices proper or at 
funerals. As the latter have already been dealt with in 
Chapter X we need only discuss the former. In principle 
these sacrifices were the same as the ordinary ichu-aja, the 
difference being rather of degree and value ; they were 
more often communal than private and personal. Should 
political affairs become unusually complicated, or the town 
be threatened by a powerful enemy, or laid under a 
devastating epidemic, or afflicted by any catastrophe 
whatever, the king or chief consulted with the dibias 
(medicine-men). That certain malignant spirits were in 
league against the town was evident, and recourse must 
be had to such measures as would lead to the removal of 
their antagonism. These spirits of the lower regions might 
be manifesting their wrath against the whole town for its 
sins, or simply for those of one man, possibly even of the 
king himself. The dibias alone could discern the root 
cause of the calamity and indicate the remedy. In the 
majority of cases resort was first had to the sacrifice of 
animals ; the whole business being forced upon the people 
by dire necessity they sought relief on the cheapest terms. 
It was only when all other forms of sacrifice failed that 
they were finally driven back upon human beings as their 
last hope. When this extreme form of sacrifice was 
needed the victim was never a fellow-townsman — he was 
always a slave purchased especially for the purpose, or a 
captive of war. He must be a young man for choice, 
strong and vigorous, well able to bear the sins of those 
in whose behalf he was to die. He was known as onye-uma. 
It is difficult to render into English the word uma, but 
the underlying idea is exactly that of Deuteronomy xxi, 23 : 
" He that is hanged is accursed of God." The man was to 
die an ignominious death — he himself becoming an 
abomination — a cursed thing. Indeed the ceremony 
itself is termed ikpu-alu (to carry away abomination). 
He was the sin-bearer, whether for the one or the many. 


The victim was conducted to an ebwo tree to which he 
was bound after his arms and legs had been tied ; the 
king stepped forward and solemnly transferred first his 
own sins, then the sins of his household, and finally the 
sins of the community to the head of the sacrifice. The 
trespass-transfer being thus fulfilled the man was loosed 
from the tree (his legs and arms remaining bound) and a 
rope was attached to his ankle and forthwith he was 
dragged round the town by two slaves appointed to the 
task. The whole populace treated the wretched creature 
as an accursed thing ; he was reviled, spat upon, kicked, 
stoned ; dust was thrown upon him, and in every form 
imaginable he was despitefully treated and denounced as 
an abomination. The slaves continued to drag him 
through the streets until life was extinct, and then the 
corpse was taken back to the king's quarters and cast 
away in the spot reserved for the bodies of human sacrifices. 
The victims were not buried ; they would have been left 
to rot but for the fact that the corpses were stolen during 
the succeeding night by the friends of the official execu- 
tioners who were not members of that community. The 
bodies were taken away to the native town of these 
officials and were there eaten. In towns adjacent to the 
river the corpses were sometimes cast into the water. 1 

Occasionally instead of dragging the man through the 
streets, after the ceremony at the ebwo tree, he was put 
upright in a hole and buried alive, his head being left 

1 Under the date February 27th, 1858, the Rev. J. Taylor, the first 
missionary settled amongst the Ibos at Onitsha, records a case of human 
sacrifice witnessed by himself and an agent of the factory. The victim wa3 
a " poor young woman. Her hands were tied behind her back, and her 
legs fastened together with a rope, decorated with young palm-leaves. In 
this position she was drawn, with her face to the earth,from the king's 
house to the river, a distance of two miles. . . . The young woman was 
dying, through the suffocation of dust and sand in the streets. The motley 
groups who attended her premature funeral cried, as they drew along the 
unfortunate creature, victimised for the sins of their land, *Alo-o ! alo ! 
alo ! ' i.e. Abomination, or that which defiles. This alarm is given to notify 
to the passers by to screen themselves from witnessing the scene. The 
sacrifice was to take away the iniquities of the land. The woman was 
dragged along in a merciless manner and finally cast into the river. A 
man was killed too, as a sacrifice for the sins of the king." — Niger Expedi- 
tion, 1857-1859, by Crowther and Taylor, pp. 343-5. 


above the ground. Here he was subject to all manner of 
abuse and ill-treatment, the sufferings of the unhappy 
creature evoking gross ridicule, but never a thought of 
pity. The corpse was left in this state, the memorial of an 
accursed thing to every one that passed by. 

Again the form of death might be changed. After the 
initial ceremonies, the man, bound hand and foot as 
above, was placed on the ground and covered with grass 
and wood and burned to death. 

But what was considered, and undoubtedly was, the 
most terrible fate of all, was when, after the transfer of 
the sins to him, the victim was simply left bound to the 
tree. The tortures were not so painful at the beginning 
as any of the above described forms of death, but they 
were prolonged to a maddening length. The degrading 
insults of the mob continued longer and sometimes death 
was long delayed. A young man in the prime of life might 
live days before being released by death ; meantime he 
had to endure unspeakable and unmitigated agonies from 
heat, hunger, thirst, the galling attacks of ants and every 
form of horror conceivable. Knowing West Africa and 
the capabilities of the native for inflicting torture, the 
thought of such a death makes one shudder. Is this an 
effective reply to those who object to foreign missions, 
who argue that the native's religion is the best for him, 
that he ought not to be disturbed and denationalised ? 
Such, surely, can have no real conception of the dark side 
of the native religion with its many horrors ; and surely, 
too, their belief in the Gospel of the Son of God, who is 
also Son of Man, must be a doubtful quantity. 

The whole of the above information has been obtained 
from personal experience, and from reliable native sources. 
In the matter of human sacrifices my chief informant was 
one who had himself actually been chosen as a victim. 
He had been bound to the sacred tree and all preparations 
made for observing the last rites. The ceremony of 
transferring the sins to his head was about to be performed 
when, through the unceasing exertions of a friend, he was 
released and another suffered the penalty in his stead, 
he himself being witness of the tortures and sufferings of 


his substitute. I knew the old man well ; we were ac- 
quainted for several years, and none could listen to his 
simple narrative without a thrill. To him, at any rate, 
there was never any difficulty in accepting the fact of the 
substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on his behalf ; his 
actual experiences were too real and vivid to allow of 
doubt on that point. 



With the exception of the Eku-meku society noticed in 
Chapter XIX, amongst the Ibos we do not find any of 
those distinctive secret societies, such as the Human 
Leopard society of Sierra Leone or the Ogboni of the 
Yorubas. I am not acquainted with any society, other 
than the Eku-meku, in which absolute secrecy is enjoined 
upon its members, and where, for the revealing of its 
plans and practices the penalty is death. At the same time 
if a man openly and wantonly proclaimed the methods 
of making "maw," i.e. spirit, he would be liable to suffer 
a peculiarly painful death. 

There is a great deal of alleged intercourse with the 
spirit -world, and the custom of making maw (ju-ju) is an 
almost daily affair. In a general way it is extremely 
common, with a few special forms for particular times and 
occasions. This making ju-ju has no religious significance ; 
it is held to be a visitation of the spirits of the dead to 
their late familiar haunts, and especially during festivals 
when the spirits manifest a lively desire to participate 
in the general rejoicings. 

The custom is confined entirely to men ; women are not 
only prohibited from making ju-ju but are debarred from 
being in the presence of a maw on pain of severe punish- 
ment. Any man at any time may arrange for a visitation. 
Usually the inspiration comes to a young man, and he 
forthwith enters into negotiations with other young men 
of leisure who happen to be suffering from an attack of 
ennui. The originator of the play enters a house and 
blows signals on an igwe (vide p. 236) and thus attracts 
followers to his train. The number of spirits who shall 



manifest themselves is chiefly dependent on the quantity 
of making-up material available. Those chosen to repre- 
sent the spirits of the dead are completely concealed in the 
weirdest costumes, anything but artistic in the majority 
of cases, and, as the dresses vary so much, a general de- 
scription must suffice. The figure must be entirely hidden, 
no part whatever of the body being visible. Trousers of 
cloth, dyed with stain from yellow clay, encase the legs 
and feet, and the dress is continued until arms and head 
are covered. Two small peep-holes in the cloth allow the 
maw to see his way about, and a tiny slit is cut through 
which to breathe. Some maws don voluminous kilts com- 
posed of ufelli (agwaw), the stems of the leaves of the 
ngwaw palm. These kilts are called egwuwu, a name 
which suggests fear ; others, such as the ejelle-egwu, have 
the head and shoulders enveloped in these cane flounces. 
Certain maws are intended to represent the spirits of de- 
parted virgins (abaw-maw) and the dress is always one 
which distinguishes a girl at the time she is passing through 
the nkpu ceremony preparatory to marriage. The head- 
gear may be part of the dress itself or it may be a mask. 
The masks are carved from blocks of wood, and are usually 
made to slip over the head, but in certain instances they 
are simply face masks. They are often of great weight, 
the pressure of which comes directly on the crown of the 
head. Some are given regular features very much like 
Egyptian patterns ; the face is always painted white, 
to enhance the idea of the supernatural ; it must be some- 
thing quite different from the ordinary mortal. Others 
again are the most hideous examples of pantomimic 
imagination. A man must be physically strong to endure 
the heat, semi-suffocation and strain demanded of him 
when so disguised. He is indeed far from being a disem- 
bodied spirit ; there is nothing ethereal about him. 

An igwe is inserted in the mouth which serves to dis- 
guise the voice. It is an instrument cut from a small reed, 
with a mouthpiece, made from spider's web, stuck on with 
liquid rubber ; it is reserved solely for the custom of 
making ju-ju. The sound produced is very like that made 
by blowing through a comb enveloped in thin paper. 


In passing, one might remark that it is bad manners to 
perform on the paper-covered comb in the presence of 
Ibos ; such music will be awarded a reception quite 
different from that expected ; it will probably be taken 
as an insult rather than a joke. 

As soon as the making-up process is completed, the re- 
maining preliminaries are got through quickly, and the 
maw sallies forth accompanied by his satellites. These 
latter have no particular costume but remain as they 
were, and merely arm themselves with a switch each 
with which to clear the way for the spirit. The maw 
enters the village walking, dancing, rushing hither aud 
thither and altogether acting as the spirit moves him. 
At the sound of the igwe, women and children flee helter- 
skelter in abject fear of a thrashing, for they have reason 
to expect that they will meet with no mercy if haply they 
fall into the clutches of the maw. He is a highly privileged 
being, enters any house he chooses, and wherever he con- 
descends to visit he must be mollified with gifts by the 
owner of the house. During certain seasons of the year 
dozens of these maws will parade the town, and are in 
their way somewhat of a nuisance. Nowadays they dance 
and pirouette in the presence of a white man, but I re- 
member the time when they quite expected him to collapse 
in fear. Many maws then believed that, in some mysterious 
manner, they were supernaturally endowed, and they were 
astonished that the European did not seem to recognise the 
fact. Moreover, by virtue of the unassailable status of a 
spirit, a maw was " onye-nwe-obodo," an equivalent title 
to our " lord of creation." In the old days we should 
have had to describe them as cheeky, at times little short 
of insolent, but perhaps they might retort that we did 
not play the game ; our unmoved attitude was contrary 
to the rules. But the real thing, as is the case with so many 
other practices, is rapidly decaying, and in many places 
it is becoming more or less a Saturday and Sunday pastime, 
and the serious side has vanished. 

It is difficult to gauge the extent of the Ibo man's 
belief that these maws are re-embodied spirits. They 
undoubtedly think that they are not men, and that the 


ceremony of making maw has somehow transformed the 
man and endowed him with extraordinary supernatural 
qualities. Amongst the women and children the belief 
is complete, and so tenacious is the idea with them, that 
even when it is disproved they cannot abandon it ; it is 
much too deeply ingrained. Nor is one greatly surprised 
at their attitude, for some of the maws, in a country where 
fetishism is universal, are of such an uncanny appearance 
that anyone might experience a creepy sensation. At the 
Christmas festivities held at a large girls' school I was 
invited to impersonate Father Christmas. The early part 
of the entertainment passed off excellently, until the 
advent of the venerable father became due. Full of 
excitement the girls waited for the promised visitor, but 
when he did appear, dressed in the conventional garb, 
with the traditional white hair and flowing beard, the 
whole crowd of girls cried out in fear, arose and fled ! It 
was some time before they could be induced to return, 
in spite of the old man's benevolent aspect ; and when 
they did come back they could scarcely be persuaded to 
accept presents from his hand; they quite believed that 
the spirit of an ancient crony was actually present before 
them. A similar experience invariably follows when a 
common Guy Fawkes mask is placed over the face. 

Making ju-ju is divided into two sections, differentiated 
as " day " and " night " maws. The former are those 
already described. The night maws are much more serious 
affairs, and far surpass any of the day ones both in im- 
portance and in the stringency of the laws which regulate 
them. For the night maws there is no peculiar dress or 
personal preparation whatever ; the chief and most wide- 
spread society is that known as the Ayakka, the members 
of which require absolute darkness for their operations and 
are active for a portion of the year only, viz. from January 
to March. It is during this period that the bush-fires rage, 
and the belief is that the fires exert a quickening effect upon 
the spirits of the dead ; the Ayakka is the roaming abroad 
of these spirits disturbed in their rest. 

Towards midnight, suddenly, out of the dense darkness, 
a clear ringing " cooee " falls upon the ear. This is re- 


peated at intervals and it is not long before answering 
cooees come from all sides of the bush. The members 
spread themselves over a large area of the country around 
the village, creeping stealthily through the jungle. Pre- 
sently the blood-curdling moanings of the odegilligilli 
reverberate and these sounds fill the women and children 
with terror and they quickly hide themselves. The ode- 
gilligilli is a thin strip of wood, twelve inches long by 
two or three inches in width, notched at the edges and 
attached to a cord by which it is whirled round in the air, 
the volume of sound and the variation of the note changing 
according to the speed and power of the revolutions. The 
scattered members gradually collect at the spot to which 
they have been attracted by the cooees of the leader and 
his calls upon the odegilligilli. They then form up in 
procession and march to the town, chanting as they go 
in their peculiar but pleasant falsetto tones. Fresh 
members are continually attaching themselves to the com- 
pany, until eventually there is a large crowd, sometimes 
numbering several hundreds. 

Should they meet a man who is not a member of the 
Ayakka they lay violent hands upon him, he is soundly 
beaten, carried away and thrown into the bush. 

No fire or other light must be visible in any house or 
compound ; failure to observe this rule leads to the house 
being surrounded by the men, who hasten to destroy it. 

No man of the company may laugh during the procession ; 
severe penalties are prescribed for any infringement of this 
regulation. Even should a member cough he is soundly 
cursed, and he is accused of doing something which is 
liable to expose the whole business ; spirits must not be 
so human as to laugh or cough ! 

During the earlier part of the Ayakka season, each 
section (or ward) of a town observes its own ceremonies. 
Should companies from two different villages select the 
same night for their enterprise, and should they happen 
to meet, fierce fighting ensues ; neither side will give way 
to the other until forced to do so. At the end of the 
season the villages may combine for a big final demonstra- 


On entering the town the members of the Ayakka may 
call at any house they please, and when they do so they 
clamour for gifts. Whatever is presented, however, must 
come directly from the hands of the head of the household. 
They state that they are visitors from a far-distant country 
and that what is darkness to living folk is daylight to the 
spirits. The headman never refuses to propitiate them 
with gifts ; were he to do anything to give umbrage to 
the party, certain of the members would be told off to act 
as ju-ju men, and these, at a convenient opportunity, 
would wreak vengeance on the offender. Hence for the 
sake of his property the headman hurries to present his 
offerings. The members of the band do not expose them- 
selves in his presence, but a hand comes round the corner 
of the door and seizes the gift. As the headman pleads 
with the Ayakka to accept his offering and to return to the 
place whence they came, the hand snatches the present 
and instantly disappears. 

The round of calls being accomplished, the members 
retire as they came to the original rallying place, thence 
they scatter into the bush, making their way homewards 
quietly, and as far as possible secretly. Every man must 
be back in his own quarters by the break of day. Often 
they arrive home very much exhausted after the excite- 
ment, the running about and the long bouts of chanting. 

Boys pass through the initiatory rites of the Ayakka 
society on attaining what is considered an understanding 
age, i.e. about ten years. The ceremony is known as 
" Iba na maw " or the " entering into the domain of 
spirit." The preliminary stages are carried through by, 
and at the instigation of, the elder men of the family. 
Should the father be alive, he begins by offering palm 
wine to the Umunna, i.e. the male relatives (of the lad) 
who are already full members of the society, and on the 
night fixed for his son to enter ju-ju he brings presents of 
soup and yams. It is usually so arranged that several 
lads may be initiated at the same time ; this saves trouble 
and expense. The novices sit in the appointed place and 
are left to themselves ; here they remain until all pre- 
parations are completed for the ceremony. They are then 


led into the courtyard of the house where the ju-ju is 
waiting for them to appear. They are ordered to lie prone 
on their stomachs with their eyes to the ground ; the maw 
or ju-ju proceeds to step over each candidate in turn, 
after which they are bidden to roll over and over (instead 
of walking) and finally retire once more into their room. 
Here a piece of bone — preferably the tooth of a goat — is 
handed to each lad and he is bidden to chew it, the in- 
structors stating that these are the teeth of the ju-ju. 
This is known as the ceremony of Awlupulu Maw (lit. 
" eating dirt off the teeth of the spirit ! " 

By this time the youths have been worked up into a 
more or less frightened condition, and are huddled together 
in a corner. As the night advances — the performance 
having begun about nine o'clock — the maw enters the room 
and makes a great pretence of removing certain parts of 
the bodies of the lads, because these are demanded by the 
ju-ju, as his special prerogative, for food. Meantime the 
members of the society who are present are urging the 
candidates to produce their gifts, promising to intercede 
with the spirits if it be made worth their while. It is the 
only way for a lad to secure merciful treatment, and more- 
over the threat is held out that unless the present is forth- 
coming the friends will not work for the boy's release from 
the power of the maw, which means that, having been 
drawn down into the spirit -world, the niggardly candidate 
will have to stay there. The candidates are told that they 
will be made to pass through the hole of an abwissi (a 
tiny insect) and thence be obliged to cross a very wide 
river on a thread. For this perilous journey one needs 
friendly assistance, and this may be assured by means of 
an acceptable present to the masters of the ceremonies. 
Neglect the gift and you must walk the miniature tight-rope 

Food is now brought forth and the lads are asked to 
partake thereof, but they are much too frightened to eat. 
The members, however, make short work of it and soon 
clear the dishes. Absolute silence succeeds the meal and 
in due course everybody drops off to sleep. On waking 
from their slumbers the candidates are informed that their 


presents were very acceptable and that, in consequence, 
their friends had begged so fervently for them that they 
had prevailed upon the maw to conduct them to and from 
the spirit -world whilst they were asleep and unconscious 
of fear. They had had a merciful escape and were very 
fortunate to have made the adventurous journey with so 
little inconvenience. 

By this time day begins to break, and the fathers of 
the youths, and other old men, come to release the initiated 
novices, bearing in their hands certain leaves. Water is 
brought and with the leaves the lads sponge their bodies 
and they are thus cleansed of the earth stains resulting 
from their journey to the nether regions. The maw con- 
ducts each lad home separately and receives a gratuity 
from the thankful mother in token of her joy at the safe 
return of her boy. 

But although from henceforth the youth will be included 
in the ranks of the Ayakka society, yet he has actually 
learned nothing about the secrets of ju-juism : there still 
remains the rite of "ikpu-ani." The candidate himself is 
responsible for all the business connected with this part 
of his education. A beginning is made by presenting gifts 
to each man of the Umunna. When, at length, their 
demands have been satisfied, they arrange for the rite to 
be performed. On the day fixed the youth is called into the 
okwule — a dark inner room, the secret place of the ju-ju — 
where are kept all the awawlaw, i.e. all the paraphernalia 
required for the making up of a complete ju-ju. The word 
relates to the mask and dress of the maw and in meaning 
is almost equivalent to the action of a snake in casting its 
skin. In this room the novice is told to lie down and wait. 
Before long the ju-ju appears and immediately administers 
a few lively strokes with a stick upon the back of the 
stranger. His wrath being appeased, one of two things 
happens ; either the maw loosens his dress and casts it 
from him, or one of the young men present puts into his 
own mouth an igwe and demonstrates how the voice of the 
ju-ju is produced ; either one or both these things may 
be done. In any case the secret is out ; the novice at once 
sees clearly that the apparition was no sort of resurrected 


spirit, but simply one of his neighbours, and probably a 
relative, who had been masquerading as a spirit. The 
youth is sworn to secrecy and is held thereto by the threat 
that the revealing of any of the ceremonies will be punished 
by torture and death. It is questionable whether this 
threat was ever carried out, chiefly because a really whole- 
some fear was created and partly because, having been 
deceived themselves, the novices wished to enjoy the sport 
of deceiving others in their turn. 

Should a woman or a man who is not a member of the 
society, enter unwittingly into the apartment containing 
the awawlaw, severe punishment can be escaped only by 
payment of heavy damages. The same rule applies should 
an outsider place an igwe in his mouth, even when acting 
in ignorance of the laws of the Ayakka society. 



Akin in several respects, yet quite different from and 
additional to the religious rites and ceremonies of the Ibo 
people, is the veneration accorded to certain local deities 
accredited with supernatural powers of divination. These 
deities inspire great awe and they are consulted on various 
pretexts, and in case of serious dispute they are the final 
courts of appeal, and no one dare question their verdicts. 

Of all the frauds practised in Africa there can be none 
greater than those connected with these municipal deities ; 
a steady source of income to their guardians. They are 
deceptions of a most impudent and specious nature, and 
yet they are tolerated with guileless simplicity by those 
who submit to their verdicts, but who cannot fathom their 
mysteries. They play an important part in the settle- 
ment of accusations of witchcraft and similar offences, 
and litigants resort to them in lieu of trial by ordeal. In 
the majority of cases an appeal to the deity was as fatal 
as the poison cup ; moreover, the suspense was more pro- 
longed and the expense entailed drained the resources of 
both the disputing parties. 

The ceremonies employed are strictly religious rites, nor 
do they come under the category of the proceedings of 
secret societies ; they partake of the nature of both. 
The approaches to the sacred grove are jealously guarded, 
and the observances and ritual are governed by laws 
enjoining absolute secrecy on the part of those holding 
proprietary rights in the oracle. It is this rigid mainten- 
ance of the oath of secrecy which has for generations veiled 
the proceedings in mystery, and has led to an unquestioned 
belief in the powers of the deity on the part of the com- 



munity at large. No one but a townsman dare approach 
the sacred precincts on his own initiative ; Instant 
reprisals, in the form of death by violence, would follow 
such indiscretion. Applicants for the judiciary pro- 
nouncements of the oracle are primed with stories concern- 
ing the ferocious attributes of the god and reduced to a 
state of abject fear, so much so that they are led to believe 
every fable uttered by the intermediaries. The credulity 
manifested beggars description ; it is a fact to be realised 
only by those who have lived in its atmosphere. I count 
myself fortunate in having lived in close proximity to one 
of these deities, and having had the opportunity of in- 
vestigating on the spot some of the facts connected with it, 
and of meeting actual participators in these nefarious 

One of the chief oracles, indeed probably the one which 
exercised the most wide-reaching influence of all the 
divining deities in the the Ibo country, is located at Awka, 
some twenty-five miles east of Onitsha on the right bank 
of the Niger. The town is large and straggling, typical of 
the district. From time immemorial it has been famous, 
partly because of its clever blacksmiths (who travel 
throughout the length and breadth of the land plying their 
trade), and perhaps even more so on account of the prestige 
accruing to it as the home of a notable deity, reputed to 
be endowed with marvellous gifts of divination. Strangers 
were conducted thither from all parts of the country in 
order that they might hold consultations with the deity. 
The Awka blacksmiths made it as much their business to 
advertise their oracle as to carry on their normal trade. 
Both honour and profit are to be gained in this way, 
and the Awka man is always ready to conduct the case of 
an applicant. 

Locally the deity is known as the Abwala. The name 
is somewhat difficult to explain. It may merely mean a 
" woman " ; such a one as is mentioned in Acts xvi. 16 
as endowed with a " spirit of divination." A more con- 
venient term perhaps is oracle. How this Abwala came 
into existence no one can tell ; her origin is unknown to 
any living person and tradition does not offer much 


assistance. She is, however, declared to be the daughter 
of the great oracle, commonly known as the " Long Ju-Ju " 
of Aro-Chuku, the destruction of which was one of the 
objectives of the military expedition of 1902. One pecu- 
liarity is that though the Abwala is feminine and is the 
daughter of " Igwe-ka-Ani," yet in the ceremonies she is 
always addressed as " Father," and the masculine pronoun 
is used. 

According to local tradition there are three great deities. 
(1) Igwe-ka-Ani ; (2) Abwala ; and (3) Eblu-okpa-bia. 
The first name indicates a " King who is higher (greater) 
than the land," and Abwala is his daughter. Eblu-okpa- 
bia may be interpreted as the " One who receives you 
graciously and fills your basket ; " in other words, " a kind 
and generous benefactor." 

Of these three Abwala takes first rank throughout the 
Ibo country. She is proclaimed as The God, the creator 
of all things, a discerner of the secrets of men, the judge of 
poisoners, the revealer of witchcraft, the omnipotent one, 
the forgiver of sins, and the dispenser of blessings of every 
kind, including the gift of children. 

The shrine of the Abwala is situated at Ezi-Awka, and 
to the people of this village is entrusted the guardianship 
of the deity. Their huts are built right up to the edge of 
the sacred precincts on the two sides that give access to 
the shrine, and strict watch is maintained against tres- 
passers. The path leading to the oracle is narrow and 
tortuous ; suddenly it opens out into a spacious square, 
in the centre of which are the remains of a rude hut 
sheltering a huge but somewhat dilapidated tom-tom. 
There are ruins of small ju-ju houses in other parts of 
the square and, at times, there are folk in residence who 
have been devoted to the deity. 

The ancient tom-tom is some nine feet in length and 
about seven in circumference. One end is shouldered off 
and shaped to represent the head and neck of a man, the 
other end is similarly worked, but with a woman's head. 
On one side the drum is ornamented with six faces, three 
at each end, carved in high relief. On the far side of the 
square an opening in the dense bush gives access to a 


narrow defile. The track through this glade is rough, and 
overhanging trees cast deep shadows, shrouding the path 
in semi-darkness. The path descends for some seventy 
yards and then further progress is barred by a wall erected 
to protect the shrine from strangers. Entrance is gained 
through a narrow aperture, but only the chief actors in 
the drama may pass through this opening. Beyond the 
wall the light is still more subdued ; the bush is denser ; 
it is altogether more gloomy and uncanny until, at the 
end of another twenty-five yards, the path broadens out 
into a leafy bower. In the centre stood the two sacred 
trees, but one only remains at the present time, the second 
having fallen and decayed away. Turning sharply to the 
right, and passing on a few paces, we discern a narrow 
opening between high banks ; this is the entrance to an 
artificial winding alley ending after a few yards in a 
cul-de-sac, where, at the foot of the bank, a log is stretched 
across the track. We are now in the sanctuary — the actual 
abode of the deity. 

The above is a brief description of the shrine and its 
approaches, as noted by the stranger. There is, however, 
a secret entrance by means of which communications 
can be maintained between those impersonating the 
Abwala and her attendants, and those who are conduct- 
ing affairs in the square above or in the lane leading to the 

We now turn our attention to the mode of operations for 
prosecuting a trial. As previously observed no stranger 
is permitted to enter the sacred precincts, except under 
the leadership of a duly authorised guide, and when 
effectively prevented from making observations through 
being closely blindfolded. We must also bear in mind 
that every Awka man, whilst practising his ordinary 
profession in any part of the country is prepared to conduct 
parties to consult the Abwala. This leader is bound to 
collect, at the actual place of dispute, all possible informa- 
tion concerning the case, prior to starring for Awka. He 
must leave no stone unturned in eliciting facts about the 
parties themselves, the grounds of the accusations, the 
circumstances and the resources of those involved and so 


forth. He thus returns to Awka well posted with details 
whereby the Abwala will have little difficulty in pro- 
nouncing a verdict which will be quite startling to the 
litigants, inasmuch as it shows an intimate and accurate 
knowledge of the facts. 

Fees, directly and in the shape of presents, together 
with the killing of goats and fowls in honour of the leader, 
must be forthcoming from the very beginning of the trans- 
action. When matters are ripe the interested parties make 
the journey to Awka, some coming very long distances. 
On arrival they are billeted in the houses of the conductor 
and his personal friends, and from this time the victims 
are gradually but surely drained of their money. The 
wife of the conductor has the right to shave the hair of 
strangers and in payment receives a piece of cloth from 
each. Each must purchase a fowl and many yams ; these 
are offered as the first sacrifice, and are afterwards con- 
sumed as a sort of family feast. A present and about ten 
pounds are demanded as first fees on behalf of the Abwala, 
but really are quietly pocketed by the leader. Whilst 
waiting the last details of the case are gleaned, and the 
prospects fluctuate pro rata, according to the presents 
distributed. Considerable delay, sometimes extending 
months, may ensue in this manner before the favourable 
day arrives for presenting themselves before the Abwala. 
This, with sublime coincidence invariably happens when 
funds show signs of giving out. The formal arrangements 
are now made and an appointment fixed. The parties 
are led along the winding tracks into the large square 
where the preliminary formalities are observed, and the 
first sacrifices offered. Having complied with the regula- 
tions, preparations are made for the settlement of the 
case. The plaintiffs and defendants are securely blind- 
folded and led to the opening in the glade leading down 
to the shrine ; here they are turned round and forced to 
walk backwards until the barrier is reached, the gateway 
of which has been covered with a hanging cloth. The 
parties wait at this spot ; no stranger may enter the 
" kamanu," the secret dwelling-place of the Abwala, 
under any pretext. 

Making Palm-leaf Mats for Thatching Purposes 

The Wonderful Tom-Tom of Umu-nze 


Presently the leader commences to cry out, " Oh, 
Abwala-Awka, hear us ! Oh, Igwe-Ani, hear us ! Prove 
by thy power which of these people is guilty (who is a 
poisoner or an extortioner or guilty of the sin of witchcraft). 
Thou that revealest all secrets, hear us ! Thou that killest 
and rewardest with life, hear us ! Oh, Igwe-Ani, hear 
us ! " 

After a brief interval the voice of the " Son of Abwala " 
is heard begging that the god will take heed to the appeal 
of the strangers. " Oh, my father, awake ! Awake and 
listen to the petitions of those who come from afar to prove 
thee. Arise and show that thou art the discerner of all 

Suddenly, and apparently from the very bowels of the 
earth, a thunderous voice peals forth, causing utter 
consternation and terror to the strangers present. It is 
the voice of Abwala replying to the request : " E-e-e-e- 
dum-e-nwam e-nwam." " Oh yes, my son. I have the 
power of life and death. He who often proves me sees 
with eyes. I am the beginning and the end." 

As this oration concludes there is a great commotion 
and Osu-Abwala, the servant of the oracle bursts forth 
from the bush. His person is liberally adorned with 
eagle feathers and in his hands are short sticks, with which 
he lays about him vigorously, beating the petitioners 
until they make it worth his while to desist ! He declares 
that Abwala is angry at being awakened and must be 
appeased with money and honourable gifts. The demand 
is backed up by the oracle himself, who forthwith com- 
mands the strangers " to advance no further lest they be 
swallowed up in the great water" (which does not exist). 

The deity having been conciliated with gifts, the parties 
are ordered to state their case. They strive earnestly, 
each endeavouring to vindicate himself by declaring his 
innocence of all crime from the day of his birth. May the 
god do so to him and more also if he has been the cause of 
any man's death, whether by the sword or by poison; 
may he suffer if he be guilty of the sin of witchcraft or of 
extortion. He has been accused falsely and now appeals 
to Abwala for righteous judgment. 


It is at this stage that the impersonator of the deity 
needs to have his wits about him. He must be on the 
alert to detect the signals which will enable him to declare, 
without mistake, which are guilty and which are innocent ; 
any error in this respect would be fatal. In reality the 
verdict has long been a settled question, but care must be 
exercised lest the reputation of the god be jeopardised. 
The first man selected for judgment is practically certain 
to be proclaimed innocent. He is bidden to rise from the 
ground where he has been crouching behind the barrier 
wall, and to listen as Abwala pronounces a verdict which 
declares that he is innocent of crime. His honour is 
vindicated and blessings are heaped upon his head. 
Before, however, these can operate in his favour he must 
give thankofferings to the righteous god in the shape of 
three or four cows or a couple of slaves. An eagle's feather 
is presented to him as a badge of his innocence, together 
with " medicine " which he is enjoined to store carefully 
in his own house on arrival there. It is a preparation 
absolutely to be relied on as a safeguard against every form 
of evil, natural and spiritual. The happy man is led back 
to the open square above, and immediately the bandage 
is removed from his eyes he rushes around dancing and 
shouting, " Abwala neylum ugo-ugo-ugu (Abwala has 
given me the eagle feather) ." Such a one has abundant 
cause for rejoicing. On his return to his own town he is 
feted and honoured as one who has triumphantly emerged 
from the greatest of all ordeals. He gladly pays all 
amounts demanded ; these are handed to the man who 
has managed his case so successfully, and who gives a 
solemn assurance to use them for the benefit of the deity ! 

There may be others likewise declared innocent, and 
the programme is repeated ; but eventually a guilty man 
must take his turn. The preliminaries are similar to those 
followed in the case of the innocent. The man on hearing 
his name announced is inspired by hope, he having heard 
the happy verdict to his predecessors. He humbly offers 
his salutations to the diety, but the answer immediately 
and unmistakably disillusions him. With vehemence and 
angry tones the Abwala taunts him as an evildoer, or it 


may be accuses him directly of being a poisoner or ex- 
tortioner, or of being guilty of witchcraft. Every pro- 
testation of innocence is contemptuously ignored and the 
poor wretch has no alternative but to grovel on the ground, 
pleading for mercy and a way of escape. The god retorts 
that there is no escape from the trap in which he is now 
caught except by the payment of three cows as a fine, 
and he urges the condemned man to hurry and bring 
these. The man eagerly consents and rises to obey the 
injunction, but as he stands up a noose is cleverly thrown 
round his neck and he is violently jerked and hauled over 
the wall thus falling into the fatal clutches of the god. 
If, after this ordeal, he is not already dead, he may be 
resuscitated in order to be sold as a slave, or if the Abwala 
signifies that blood only will satisfy him the victim is 
hacked to death with cutlasses. 

The executioner is the only regularly appointed official 
attached to the deity. His sole occupation is the slaying 
of those appointed to die. He may not travel nor can he 
plant a farm ; he must let nothing distract him from his 
business, and he must be ready at any time for his ghastly 
work. All corpses are hurled into the valley sloping away 
from the lower edge of the shrine ; they are afterwards 
collected and disposed of in accordance with the usual 
custom prevailing in a cannibal country. 

There are cases in which the Abwala is consulted for the 
purpose of obtaining some personal benefit, entirely 
distinct from criminal trials. The blessing of the god may 
be sought in order that sons may be born to the suppliant 
— of course on receipt of adequate compensation. A not 
uncommon practice is for a man to beseech the Abwala 
to deliver him from the hands of his enemies by bringing 
death and destruction upon them. One of the attributes 
of the deity is the faculty of exercising his deadly powers 
over persons at any distance, hence the appeal to him. 
This can be done privately, the unsuspecting enemy being 
in total ignorance of the designs upon his life. The un- 
fortunate one is mentioned by name and, at the conclusion 
of sacrifices and payments, the Abwala orders a piece of 
iron to be driven into the tree as if the man in question 


were actually executed on the spot. Some of these irons 
are roughly shaped staples, some have chisel edges, others 
are spear heads. Green leaves are sometimes rolled up 
containing " medicine," and the spike driven through the 
bundle. On one occasion I happened to stray into the 
grove within a few hours (at the most) of a ceremonial 
function. There was a bundle of fresh leaves held in 
position by the usual piece of iron which, on being extracted 
and the bundle unrolled, was found to contain the head of 
a small snake spitted through the throat with a sharp 

No one man is consecrated to the priesthood of the 
deity. It is entirely a matter of mutual arrangement, 
and any Awka man can impersonate the god and fulfil all 
the functions connected with the observance of the 
ceremonies. The conductor of the suppliants undertakes 
the management of the business from beginning to end, 
and he appoints his acquaintances to act as the Abwala, 
Osu-Abwala, the servant of the god, and other officials. 
These together constitute themselves into a limited 
company for dispensing divinations — a concern which 
pays a handsome dividend to its shareholders ; the 
chairman, i.e. the conductor of the party, naturally 
absorbing the lion's share of the proceeds. 

Apart from the fact that all strangers are blindfolded 
before entering the sacred precincts, the profoundest 
source of deception is the peculiar voice of the Abwala 
and his votaries. This is disguised to represent the noise 
of rolling thunder rising from the nether regions ; more- 
over, the note is taken up on all sides so that the location 
of the deity cannot be fixed. The voices come first from 
in front, then from behind, and finally all round until the 
strangers are hopelessly bewildered. There are three sets 
of voices — that of the Abwala himself, that of his special 
attendant, Osu-Abwala, and those of the chorus raised 
by the Umu-Chuku, i.e. the children of god. 

The change from the natural voice is wrought by means 
of small clay pots specially manufactured for the purpose, 
called " mbaw." They are four inches in diameter, with 
wide necks, and a little hole is punched through the bottom 


of each. One of these pots is fixed over the mouth of each 
man assisting in the ceremony. The effect of shouting into 
the pot may be better grasped by the reader if he will try 
the experiment of speaking loudly with a large tumbler or 
jam jar over his mouth. 

Of how many lives have been " eaten " (lit.) by the 
Abwala-Awka, it would be folly to offer an estimate. 
One of the facts proved by experience is that no reliable 
figures are ever given by natives living in primitive 
conditions ; concrete numbers are unlucky, and " many, 
many " is all that they will state ; but one of the free men 
of Awka informed me that the lives so sacrificed were 
incalculable ; and there is reliable authority for believing 
that more than thirty persons have perished in a single 
day. The policy of frequent executions was zealously 
upheld lest the idea should grow that the power of the 
Abwala was dwindling. It was a sure method of instilling 
abject fear into strangers, and, at the same time maintain- 
ing the dignity of the oracle. If the pieces of iron em- 
bedded in the sacred trees may be taken as any indication, 
then there can be no question but that many hundreds of 
people lost their lives as a result of appeal to the Abwala. 
When I first saw the trees they were, from ground level 
to eight feet above, thickly studded with spikes. The 
trunks are black with the marks of the irons driven into 
them. One of the trees has since fallen, as stated above, 
and the trunk has rotted away. 

The Abwala was a source of huge profit to the town, 
and the people of Awka suffered heavy pecuniary loss when, 
in 1905, a military expedition gave the oracle its death- 
blow. The prestige of the deity, however, was not entirely 
broken and recourse continues to be had to his oracular 
powers, but many of the ancient practices are no longer 
retained. The rendezvous of the god has been changed, 
and further, it is clearly recognised that he cannot any 
longer demand the life of any who may be brought before 
him for judgment, nor condemn them to slavery. The old- 
time ceremonies are followed as closely as possible, but 
fines have been substituted for the former sentences of 
capital punishment and slavery. Fear of the British 


Government has also been fairly generally inculcated in 
the native mind, and the number of those prepared to 
risk the consequences of perpetuating the profitable 
deception has been greatly reduced. With the further 
spread of British influence, and the inevitable opening up 
of the country, and in no small measure owing to the 
influence of Christian missions in Awka and the neigh- 
bourhood, there is not the slightest doubt that the fate of 
the Abwala has been sealed. His reputation and his very 
existence are doomed, and ere long — if affairs proceed 
along the present progressive lines — the deity and all that 
appertains to him will cease to be. On the other hand, 
should the Government relax its vigilance or, worse still, 
withdraw from the country, the prestige of the Abwala 
would be immediately and completely restored. Matters 
are in a state of transition ; a very large majority of the 
people are in favour of the deity, and would revive their 
proprietary rights in him, gladly, had they reason to think 
they could do so with impunity. 



The desire for rank and honour is not confined to the Ibo 
people, nor is the essential element in the transaction 
peculiar to them ; money is always the controlling factor 
in the business. 

Kings, as such, can hardly be said to exist in these days, 
though amongst the people on the western side of the 
Niger there still linger, here and there, marks of the 
autocratic state of former days. The fall of Benin led 
to a general disruption in all this part of the country, and 
with it went the position and power of the tributary kings. 
The influence of Benin was paramount, and the chiefs 
of the surrounding districts settled all important business 
under its inspiration. The title of " king " is still in use 
and to some extent the holder receives the homage and 
service of his subjects, but in actual fact it is now little 
more than a courtesy title. There has been a marked 
decline of the kingly prestige even in the last few years. 
In 1900, when I visited Isele-Ukwu and Agbor, a call on 
the king involved considerable time and display of cere- 
monial etiquette, but all this has dwindled down to a mere 
shadow of its former greatness. 

On the left bank of the river, the only town which 
boasts a king is undoubtedly due to the former influence 
of Benin. This royal family claims to be of Bini descent, 
and all the circumstances are unique on this side of the 

The most popular and widespread form of native 
government has been through the administration of chiefs, 
the position of each one being determined by his rank 
plus his seniority in the order. It is the ambition of every 
free-born youth to rise to chieftainship, and in this de- 



mocratic country the highest honours are open to every 
freeman equally. At the same time but few were able to 
enter the most exalted orders in the old days. In modern 
times the dignity of the chieftainship has been degraded 
and the tendency is to bring the whole system into dis- 
repute, owing to the wholesale and indiscriminate sale of 
titles to any youth who can produce the stipulated fees. 
This is another example of the inevitable results of the 
opening of the country. 

It would be a tedious task to describe all the grades, 
the installation fees and modes of initiation whereby a 
man attains to the position of a leading chief in the country. 
As a matter of fact each town has its own recognised titles 
and regulations governing them. In some there are as 
many as ten progressive degrees ; in others there are no 
more than three. Likewise the fees in one town may be 
greatly in excess of those in another ; it all depends on 
ancient custom, local circumstances, and the ability of 
candidates to pay — the last being the most essential 

In the central districts of the Ibo country probably the 
most honourable title is that of Obu Madu, i.e. the one 
who has killed (his) man. It was no unusual thing for a 
captured stranger to be brought home alive for the express 
purpose of " making title." The victim was securely 
bound to a tree and a young lad, armed with a matchet, 
hacked off the man's head. The time taken to accomplish 
the deed depended, of course, on the lad's size and strength, 
but throughout the task he was urged on by the cheers 
of the assembled company. By fulfilling this gruesome 
piece of work, usually specially arranged by a father for 
his son, the lad earned the coveted title " man-slayer." 

The general procedure is for a man to begin with the 
lowest degree, and ascend as funds permit. He may hand 
over the fees in a lump sum, or he can pay on the instal- 
ment system, but in the latter case the whole amount must 
be completed before he can assume the title or partake of 
its privileges. 

Some titles descend to an eldest son by inheritance and 
thence he can proceed to the higher orders, for the most 


advanced are not hereditary ; on the other hand a title 
may be conferred by proxy. A father, providing he himself 
be a titular chief, can pay the fees and arrange all cere- 
monial details on behalf of an absent son. The son, there- 
upon, is empowered to carry the insignia of his order and 
to receive the courtesy salutation attached to it. 

Similarly a wealthy son may procure a title for his father ; 
but in this case, as well as in the former, the father must 
remain at least one degree in advance of his son ; the child 
must never take precedence of the parent ; an attempt 
to do so would be dishonourable, and moreover his applica- 
tion to the Council of Chiefs would be instantly vetoed. 

A slave, whether acquired or born in that state, is in- 
eligible as a candidate for a title, but he may be called 
upon to contribute towards the sum required to enable 
his master to enter a higher degree. 

There are practically no essential qualifications other 
than birth and money. A man desirous of the honour and 
dignity of a chief casts about in his mind to see whether 
he can raise the necessary fees. It is extremely improbable 
that any enquiries will be made as to their origin, nor is 
his candidature likely to be affected by questions as to 
character. He may have stolen every penny of the money 
he tenders. Some councils prohibit the applicant stealing 
from fellow tribesmen, i.e. men of the same town, but allow 
full liberty to rob outside natives or foreigners for the 
purpose of taking title. Even murder may be no bar ; 
indeed in certain circumstances it is more likely to enhance 
the reputation of the candidate. It is not regarded as 
quite correct etiquette to engage in direct stealing ; it is 
preferable to practise deception and fraud upon the 
stranger in order to raise the funds. In other words theft 
and other serious offences are not accounted crime when 
committed outside the limits of one's own town. 

As a typical example of the regulations and principles 
for the granting of titular regulations and principles, 
the following sets forth those in force in the town of 
Awka, one of the most advanced and, withal, one of 
the most expensive in which to assume the rank of a 



1. The orders are open to any free-born man, even an 
alien, provided he be a resident in the town at the time of 
his election. Should he migrate later he can appoint an 
official receiver to collect his share of the entrance fees 
paid by later candidates. 

2. All fees received are divided amongst the members 
of the particular order concerned. Sometimes the senior 
members receive a small sum extra. 

3. A wife can pay for a title on behalf of her husband, 
but she herself, in common with all other women, is in- 
eligible for election. A wife, however, is granted special 
rights and privileges. She takes a new name correspond- 
ing to the one assumed by her husband on taking up. a 
title, and she is allowed to wear certain distinctive 
insignia equivalent to those worn by him. 

4. All Awzaw titles die with the holder. Other titles 
may be inherited. 

At Awka the order of precedence in the degrees or titles 
is as follows : — 

1. Amanwulu. 

2. Chi. 

3. Aja-Ama. 

4. A J ALU A. 

5. Ekwu. 

6. Awzaw subdivided into Awzaw-Unaw and Nukwu 


7. Fu or Aja-Chi. Sometimes spoken of as Pu, F and 

P being interchangeable in this locality. 

The following notes treat of these in closer detail. 

1. Amanwulu. 

To obtain this title fees to the amount of about £10 must 
be paid in cash and kind, goats forming part of the latter. 

These three are usually taken together. 


The insignia of the order consists of one corded string 
specially made for the purpose, fastened around the waist, 
and others round the ankles, the former being discarded 
on the fulfilment of all the ceremonies. The staff is merely 
a whittled stick of osaga or okeakpa wood. 

The benefits accruing to a member of this order are 
a share in the entrance fees of future candidates ; the 
right to wear a loincloth or other forms of clothing. Until 
this title has been taken it was formerly not permissible 
for a male to wear any garment ; he must, perforce, be 
satisfied with a piece of cord and a tiny fragment of cloth. 
This old rule is now superseded, save in unopened districts ; 
men wear what they like irrespective of any regulations 

Usually this title is taken up in quite early youth. 

2. Chi. 

To proceed to this degree means an outlay of at least 
£20. It is a distinct advance upon Amanwulu. The 
recipient is authorised to carry an iron staff, about five 
feet in length, and ornamented with a three-inch brass 
binding at the top. He also carries one of the smaller 
ivory horns whereby he may proclaim his presence and 
rank to all and sundry. He is entitled to choose a new name 
for himself, and to receive his share of all fees. 

3. (i) Aja-Ama. 
(ii) Ife-Ii-Awku. 
(iii) Amawanxu. 

These three minor orders are not considered of any real 
importance beyond the fact that they are stepping-stones 
to the higher degrees. They are taken simultaneously, 
the three involving an expenditure of about £10 to £12. 
There is no special insignia and the only benefit is the 
usual share of the profits. 

4. A J ALU A. 

At this stage the titles become more select, owing to the 
greatly increased cost. The entrance fees for this order 
work out between £50 and £90. The amount depends to 


some extent on the past actions of the candidate. Should 
he have roused in some way the ill-will of one or more of 
the existing members he must seek reconciliation, and this 
will not be valid unless a payment of £10 is offered to each 
member of the Ajalija who considers that he has cause for 

The members are divided into ten sections, each section 
receiving one-tenth of the entrance fees for redistribution 
amongst them individually. The candidate will also supply 
sufficient cows to allow one for each party, and on account 
of this a member of the order is occasionally saluted as 
" Obu-Efi " (i.e. he who has killed a cow, for making 
title), though he is not formally entitled to this salutation. 
Sometimes more cows are provided than are wanted for the 
purposes of sacrifice and feasting ; in such case they are 
turned loose and henceforth are free to roam and are no 
man's property. They often become semi-wild and fre- 
quently become a great nuisance, especially when they 
stray amongst the young corn. On several occasions 
requests have been made to us to shoot them as they had 
become too wild for the natives to control. 

The insignia of the order are an iron staff nine feet long, 
forked at the top end, spear-pointed at the bottom, with 
brass bindings at top, bottom and centre, and copper 
anklets from three to four inches wide. The holder is 
privileged to carry a full-sized ivory horn and a goat-skin 
bag ; he has the right to be buried in a coffin within the 
precincts of his house and to have a cow sacrificed at his 
funeral. He is entitled to use a chief's carved stool, and to 
carry a goat-skin for spreading on the floor to sit upon. 

In this order a son is granted a share of the profits on 
account of a deceased father, providing, of course, that the 
father had himself been a member of the order, hence it 
follows that many men bearing the Ajalija title are em- 
powered to take two slaves when profits are being dis- 
tributed, viz. his own and his late father's. On taking 
up this title a man may add three new names to those 
he already possesses. 

In the great majority of cases men are content when 
they have reached this grade, and but few make any serious 


attempt to advance further. They have reached quite an 
honourable position in the community and are influential 

5. Ekwu. 

The fee for this title figures out at about £15. This sum 
includes the expense of providing goats and a liberal supply 
of palm-wine. It has no special benefits other than the 
usual share in the profits. It is really the preliminary 
order leading to the most important of all, and is never 
taken except by men proceeding to the Awzaw orders. 

6. Awzaw. 

This is subdivided into Awzaw-Unaw and Nukwu 
Awzaw, the idea being that the candidate is recognised 
as an Awzaw chief by those of his own family first 
(hence the addition of the word " Unaw " house), and 
then passes on to the complete title, i.e. Nukwu (great). 

This is the most expensive of all titles and it is extremely 
difficult to state precisely the sum required. The lowest 
estimate is £120, of which some two-thirds must be in cash, 
and the remainder in cows, goats, gin, palm wine, etc. 
The first £25 must be paid to the members of the candi- 
date's own umunna, i.e. to those who can claim any sort 
of kinship with him. The next payment — perhaps £40 in 
cash and £20 in kind — is handed to the Awzaw chiefs of 
the particular quarter in which the would-be-chief resides. 
Other payments to the remaining chiefs of the whole town 
follow. In addition there are many expenses in connection 
with drummers, dancers and all the paraphernalia as- 
sociated with the conferring of this title. Whenever 
possible a horse must be slain as part of the ceremony. 
The condition of the poor brute matters not, so long as 
it is not actually dead. The recipient of the title must 
let out its lifeblood. Sometimes the animals are in such a 
decrepit condition that they have to be carried to the place 
of sacrifice. The killing of the horse confers the courtesy 
title of Otibwu-Anyinya on the chief, and henceforth 
he is saluted by that name, "the one who has killed a 
horse." Horses, of course, are difficult to procure and more 


difficult to keep alive owing to the devastating effects of 
the tsetse fly, and this accounts for the special honour 
attached to the killing of a horse. 

The first part of the concluding ceremonies is performed 
at night, and then ensues a rather protracted series of 
purifications. The newly made Awzaw must not venture 
forth in public for two months. He may not sleep in 
his own compound ; indeed, his feet must not come under 
the roof of a house. Usually he is accommodated in a 
friend's compound, where a small booth is specially erected 
for his benefit. Should it rain heavily he may sit under 
the eave of his friend's house with the stipulation that 
he keeps his feet outside. During these months he is 
smeared with chalk from head to foot. He must see none 
but his own immediate relatives and keep to his first wife, 
i.e. "anassi" only. 

After all these preliminaries are fulfilled he makes ready 
to parade the town. It is a time of great rejoicing. A 
new bell called the " ogenne " is carried before him and 
solemnly beaten to announce the approach of the new 
chief. This bell is made of beaten iron and is fully three 
feet in length ; it is oval in shape with flattened edges 
and the note is a deep-sounding one. On reaching the 
market place, or other recognised open space, the Awzaw 
publicly embraces his wife and eldest son. 

The insignia of the order are, first an iron spear with a 
crownlike head of twisted iron. In the centre there is a 
series of six or eight pieces of iron similarly twisted, 
bellying out on the shank of the spear ; at intervals the 
shaft is bound with brass. Around the ankles of an 
Awzaw chief are bound cords red with ufie (camwood) 
stain. A huge ivory horn forms part of the regalia, also a 
special stool of a pattern jealously restricted to the use of 
members of the Awzaw order. 

The peculiar benefits that accrue to members of the order 
are : absolute exemption from all forms of manual labour ; 
immunity from bodily assault from any native whether 
from his own town or another. He has the right to inflict 
punishment on any man who tampers with his wives. 
He sits upon the council which exercises jurisdiction in 


civil and criminal cases in the town, and which regulates 
customs, promulgates laws, etc. 

He is publicly saluted with the title of Obwu-Efi (cow- 
killer) or Otibwu-Anyinya (horse-killer) according to 
whether his great sacrifice has been a cow or a horse. 
And last, but far from least, he receives his share of en- 
trance and other fees paid into the treasury of the order. 

There are certain general rules controlling the affairs 
of the order of which the more important only need be 

1. The Awzaw title can be assumed by no man prior 
to the decease of his father. (This rule has been quite 
discarded at Onitsha — another sign of the disintegrating 
forces of the times.) 

2. On assuming the title the holder takes four additional 

3. An Awzaw chief committing a theft is liable to be 
expelled from being an active member of the council. 

4. It is not permissible for an Awzaw chief to sit upon 
the bare ground ; he must either use a stool or an untanned 

5. He is forbidden to cross water. (This rule has also 
been abolished under the new conditions of life in Ibo- 

6. Should necessity arise for the arrest of an Awzaw 
chief it is contrary to all etiquette that he should be hand- 
cuffed or tied in any manner. 

7. A wife can pay the costs necessary to enable her 
husband to enter the Awzaw order. She herself receives no 
actual title but is recognised as the wife of such a chief, 
and wears cards round her ankles, and puts on other marks 
to indicate corresponding rank to that of her husband. 

8. The title is not hereditary. 

There is one other point in connection with the Awzaw 
order which, incidentally, sheds an interesting light upon 
the priesthood. It becomes apparent in the order when 
deciding the question of precedence amongst the members. 
This is controlled chiefly by the chief who is technically 
known as the " okpala." The okpala is the recognised 


head of the family who, in virtue of his position, is also 
the priest of the elan. There are three grades actually. 

1. The okpala of the family or household simply. 

2. The okpala of the elan. This is confined to the 

descendants of one family. 

3. The okpala of the town generally. This is held by 

the head of each clan in turn. 

Now an okpala by birth, who is also a member of the 
Awzaw order, always takes precedence of an Awzaw who 
has not that distinction. A true okpala can only be one 
by birth, but an Awzaw chief who does not possess that 
qualification may act either as deputy for a proper (minor) 
okpala or he may act in his own right in certain special 
circumstances, as the confession of adultery and other 

7. Fu or Pu. 

This is the last of the orders in vogue in the town of 
Awka. It is taken up on very rare occasions. The costs 
amount to about £30. No one but an Awzaw can enter 
the order, and from a material point of view there is no 
gain but a participation in the entrance fees. In this 
instance the share is a small one, inasmuch as the relatives 
of deceased holders of the title receive the share that the 
Ndi Fu would receive were they still alive, the number 
being, consequently, greatly in excess of those actually 
holding the title. 

The distinctive salutation is "obuzulu," conveying the 
idea that all the killings have been completed. 

Of all these titles the only one that really counts is the 
Awzaw. In past days this order was undoubtedly a great 
power in the land. The members exercised a widespread 
influence and they administered all the affairs of the town. 
They were treated with the utmost respect on the one 
hand and they were feared on the other. They had the 
power of life and death, and were the fully accredited 
rulers of the town. 

Unfortunately the order has degenerated of recent years 
into little more than a money-making concern. In many 

Playing Okwe 

A Native Orchestra 


cases the holders of the title are mere youths who inspire 
no feelings of respect and who detract from its dignity 
rather than add to it. Young men acting as clerks, 
interpreters, carpenters and so forth, have seized the 
opportunity of making money which presented itself 
simultaneously with the opening up of the country by 
the Government, and earning (or otherwise collecting) 
money quickly, have immediately offered themselves as 
candidates for the Awzaw order. The old chiefs, always 
willing to accept fees, have done so in the cases of these 
young men ; they have reaped a monetary benefit ; their 
original investment has turned out more profitable than 
ever they anticipated, but this greedy procedure led to 
the degradation of the whole system ; with such a collection 
of irresponsible young men as members of the order, all 
right to exercise any real control over the affairs of the 
community has been forfeited. The old men, for the sake 
of temporary gain, have sacrificed the dignity and the 
privileges of the Awzaw order and are chiefs in the proper 
meaning of the term no longer. 



The fact is sometimes overlooked that amongst uncivilised 
races there are, as a rule, clearly defined standards of 
etiquette. It is so with the Ibo people. They have rules 
for the regulation of conduct applicable to almost every 
detail of life. Habits are naturally engendered and 
developed ; they are a subconscious part of the native's 
being and, amongst the older generation, it is a rare thing 
to find one failing to observe the traditional rules of 
conduct. The code of etiquette had a definite place in the 
social life of the people, but the disintegrating forces of 
a transition period are plainly visible, and the old system 
of conduct and etiquette is rapidly losing its significance 
and its hold upon them. A generation is springing up with 
a disposition to cast off the manners and traditions of its 
ancestors. This is a source of no little concern to the old 
people and for many obvious reasons it is much to be 

There are many things which it is an advantage to bear 
in mind when holding intercourse with the people. The 
one which perhaps impresses the average foreigner more 
than any other is the ancient custom of sharing the 
kola nut. When about to call upon a chief it is not 
necessary to notify him of one's intention. The visitor 
walks into the compound and is either led to the reception- 
room, or, if none of the household be visible, he shouts, or 
by other means makes his presence known. An attendant 
soon appears and the visitor is accommodated with a stool, 
or, it may be, a skin is spread on the clay seat for him. 
I have had to be content with the outer husk of a coco-nut 
split in half with the flat side to the ground. This is not an 



ideal seat, it is not too comfortable, and it needs consider- 
able care to preserve one's dignity. 

A chief seldom exhibits signs of haste in his formal 
reception of the ordinary visitor ; but the announcement 
of the arrival of a Government official speeds up the chief's 
movements wonderfully ! The delay is deliberate in order 
to impress on the caller the dignity of the chief and to 
signify that it is a matter of condescension on his part to 
receive a stranger at all. And the greater the chief the 
longer he keeps his visitors waiting, particularly if they are 
strangers. When he does appear he is attired in state 
dress and at once takes his seat upon the ukpo (throne, 
seat of honour), and then settles himself to receive the 
salutations of the strangers. These are somewhat pro- 
tracted, consisting of expressions of welcome and pleasure 
and inquiries concerning the health of himself and his 
people. If it be a first call it is incumbent to explain whence 
one has come and why. When visiting a strange town it 
was our invariable practice to inquire for the leading 
chief, and at once claim his friendship and, if necessary, 
his good services on our behalf. Native etiquette demanded 
that the stranger should, in such circumstances, be received 
hospitably, and we were always treated well, although 
occasionally, the welcome was not exactly cordial. 

The preliminary salutations having petered out, a slave 
boy advanced bearing a wooden bowl, or other receptacle, 
containing one or more kola nuts. 1 The dish was handed 
to the chief, who, in turn, passed it on to the visitor. 

1 Kola (Cola, or Sterculia acuminata and macrocarpa). Tree twenty 
to thirty feet in height, both indigenous and cultivated in most parts of 
West Africa between 5° S. and 10° N". Lat. It thrives on all soils, and is 
found at all heights, from sea-level to three thousand feet and more. The 
nuts, which are bitter in taste, are highly esteemed by the natives. In 
England they are worked up with cocoa and other food products. To the 
Mohammedan of West Africa the kola nut supplies the place of coffee. 
For satisfying the cravings of hunger and for sustaining properties it is 
deemed equal to the dried dates of the Bedouins. The roots are favoured as 
" chew-sticks " for cleaning the teeth and sweetening the breath. 
The nuts grow in pods, and vary in size from one to two inches in diameter. 
Each nut has three or four natural divisions enabling it to be split easily. 
In colour it ranges from white to red. Kola nuts enter into the daily life 
of all West African Mohammedans and constitute almost a language. 


In the case of a perfect stranger the chief would probably 
put the nuts to his own mouth before presenting them, to 
indicate that they were offered in all good faith and were 
free from poison and ju-ju influence. It is the visitor's 
privilege to divide the kola nut, an easy operation if the 
nut be held bottom end upwards and the thumb nails 
pressed firmly into the natural lines of division. These 
portions are usually broken into still smaller fragments and 
then the pieces are placed in the dish. The proper etiquette 
is to offer the nut to the chief first and he, in turn, hands 
the dish back to the visitor. The two leading personages 
having thus partaken, the remainder of the nut is passed 
to the other men in attendance, in order of rank and 
seniority. The ceremony is not confined to men, but they 
take precedence of any women present. 

The right hand must always be used ; to offer or receive 
a gift with the left hand, or to present it for any purpose, is 
equivalent to a direct insult. The joint partaking of kola 
nut is supposed to be the ceremony which seals an un- 
breakable friendship, but it would be injudicious to rely 
implicitly upon this outward expression of good will. 
A native would pay little respect to its binding claims 
should circumstances arise to lead him to change his 
attitude towards the stranger. The ceremony is brought 
to a conclusion by an interchange of presents, either whilst 
still sitting in the reception-chamber or after the parties 
have departed to their respective quarters. 

The presents offered by the chiefs are sometimes more 
interesting than attractive. So long as they consist of 
live meat, yams, and such-like, they are as agreeable as 

Offers of marriage, refusals and acceptances, declarations of war, and 
countless other transactions are arranged by means of the number and 
colour of kola nuts strung together (or other wi;e) and sent by one party 
to another. The first act of friendship and hospitality is a present of white 
nuts, and before commencing any discussion on any subject the sharing 
of the kola nut as an act of friendship is a necessity. 

The export of kola nuts is a very flourishing trade, and they are in great 
demand throughout all the countries of the Soudan as far as Khartoum. 
The value increases according to the distance they have to be carried 
until they cost from sixty to one hundred times their original value. — 
Modified extraot from British Nigeria, Mockler-Ferryman, p. 317. 


they are acceptable. When dead meat is offered, one 
cannot but feel disgust, however strongly one may try to 
repress it. 

On one occasion a worthy and venerable old cannibal 
chief smilingly presented me with a large dish of meat. 
There were several joints, all black with smoke and their 
origin a matter for speculation ; but the climax was reached 
when the old gentleman suddenly bent down and vigor o- 
ously licked the surface of the meat as a preliminary to 
presenting it ; this, of course, being done to remove any 
possible suspicion of poison. 

Where a chief is privileged to hold the courtesy title of 
" king " the native salutation is accompanied by the 
sincerest form of obeisance, the visitor prostrating himself 
and placing his forehead on the ground. He repeats this 
act several times, and each time he raises his head he 
utters the kingly salutation " Igwe " or " Obi," instead 
of one of the customary words used in greeting commoners. 
In theory no visitor may depart from any house without 
partaking of kola nut or some equivalent. In practice 
the custom is frequently omitted, the omission being 
atoned for by the words " Enwerom ojji (I have no 
kola), the underlying idea being an apology for the fact 
that no kola nut has been offered ; not that there was any 
intention of slight, or want of respect, but the host had 
nothing to offer. 

All persons, irrespective of age, sex, or rank, salute each 
other as they meet. None but an ill-mannered person, 
lacking in common courtesy, would fail to return the 
customary greeting, unless, indeed, he were mourning for 
the dead or in the act of bearing an offering to the spirits 
of the dead. 

As a matter of fact, at times there are so many people 
to greet and the salutation is such a parrot -like utterance, 
that it is apt to jar on the foreigner's nerves and exhaust 
his patience. The underlying thought of the salutation is 
practically the same all over the country, bearing a general 
idea of " welcome," more or less equivalent to the English 
" glad to see you." The word may be repeated any 
number of times — often with monotonous and wearisome 


precision. Curiously enough, in most districts, there is a 
total absence of variable salutations. All who meet in the 
morning greet one another with the words " Have you 
come out from sleep ? " and this salutation is pressed into 
service throughout the day — and night too if need be ! 
There is nothing which corresponds to " good afternoon " 
or " good evening." To the foreigner it sounds rather 
ludicrous to be asked at 6 p.m. " Have you come out from 
sleep ? " There is one exception which comes into use 
when one meets a person at work ; the right thing then is 
to salute the labourer with the words " Thank you for 
working," the words to be repeated as often and as 
vigorously as the work appears to warrant. 

Should one wish to beckon to another the right hand 
must be used with the palm turned downwards, i.e. with 
a sort of drawing motion. On the other hand, to close the 
fist, with thumb turned upward, and shake it in the face 
of a person, is equivalent to hurling the most deadly 
threats and curses upon him. 

A person drawing near whilst a meal is in progress is 
immediately greeted with an invitation " to come and 
eat." The invitation is always given, but the answer is 
almost invariably to the effect that the visitor has already 
eaten ; it is a rare thing for one to accept food in these 
circumstances. The invitation is an act of courtesy which, 
though always expressed, expects the answer " No ! " 

In every sphere of life man takes precedence over 
woman ; he is lord and master, but not necessarily in an 
overbearing manner. The sexes recognize clearly each 
other's rights and privileges, and they do not spoil matters 
by attempting to interfere with each other's affairs and 
vocations. In assemblies where both sexes are present, 
the men sit on one side and the women on the other. When 
travelling by road no regular order is followed, but more 
often than not the husband brings up the rear — his 
women-folk bearing the loads before him ; the man seldom 
carries a load himself. 1 When canoeing, a woman usually 

1 This custom, no doubt, is a survival of the ancient law of necessity 
whereby the man, fully armed, and unhampered by any burden, brought 
up the rear. His business was to shepherd his women folk and be ready to 


steers and women also do the greater part of the paddling. 
Natives invariably walk in single file whatever the con- 
dition of the road may be, whether a good open highway or 
a bush track. A woman may not wear an article of male 
attire nor in any way act as a man ; severe penalties follow 
the infringement of this rule. European ladies sometimes 
rouse the very strong indignation and prejudice of the 
natives when they least suspect it, and I have known them 
to be in considerable danger of molestation all because of 
some garment, which may be eminently suitable to the 
country, but which, in the biassed mind of the native, 
savours of masculine tendencies, and is therefore subject 
to grave disapproval. 

When meeting a person, after the customary salutation, 
one enquires as to his health and that of his relatives 
(whether they are acquaintances or not). Likewise when 
saying " good-bye " one sends salutations to the house- 
hold to which the man is proceeding. These are not 
referred to by name but merely as " Ndi-bei," i.e. those of 
your house. But it is not etiquette to make inquiries 
regarding the number of those who constitute the house- 
hold. It is even worse manners to ask how many wives 
a man has or the number of his children. No one of 
experience would ever expect to get a direct answer to 
such questions, and if a definite number were to be 
mentioned it would be safe to assume that it was false. 
One would have to be satisfied by " some " or a " few " or 
" many " at the best. It is a question full of ill-omen ; 
to announce the number would be a direct challenge to the 
malignant spirits and they would speedily get to work and 
play havoc with the family. 

Anyone leaving the compound on an errand from which, 
in the ordinary course of things, he must sooner or later 
return is saluted with the words " Nabo," really an expres- 
sion of the wish that the person may go forth and return in 
safety. Distance and probable lapse of time have no 
bearing on the situation. Even when one is leaving the 

act on the defensive. In days gone by his rdle was a most important and 
frequently a dangerous one. Foreigners are apt to accuse him of laziness, 
whereas really he is only observing the practice of hie forefathers. 


country altogether — say for furlough in England — the 
salutation is the same ; frequently the native refuses to 
use the word which indicates a final good-bye. 

With men the common form of greeting is effected with 
the first two fingers of the right hand. The fingers are 
pressed firmly together and then pulled backwards, pro- 
ducing, if done properly, a sharp clicking sound similar 
to that resulting from the familiar snap of the thumb and 
bare finger. The women are much more demonstrative 
and embrace each other (but without kissing) or, as they 
say, " Ti-obi," i.e. to clasp each other to the heart. 

Making Water and Cooking Pots 

Women Clearing Farm of Weej 



The following are a few examples of folklore and fables in 
common use amongst the Ibo people. The stories narrated 
by the old folk are of absorbing interest to the children 
and a large volume could easily be filled with them. 
Proverbs, fables and stories enter very largely into the 
ordinary conversation of the people, and some acquaint- 
ance with them is absolutely necessary in order to take an 
intelligent interest in any subject of discussion. Some 
hundreds of proverbs are in constant use, and answers to 
questions are frequently given in this form. The meaning 
of some of the proverbs and fables is clearly obvious, but 
others are quite enigmatical. The usual practice in 
narrating fables and tales is to refer to animals and birds 
as persons, as will be observed by a perusal of the few 
examples here given. 

A pig and a deer started on a journey together. After a 
time they reached a spot where the path forked. They 
began to dispute as to which of the roads they should 
follow. The pig proposed the longer route but the deer 
urged the claims of the shorter. The quarrel became so 
heated that it led to a separation, and each chose the path 
he preferred. The pig travelled by the longer way and 
arrived at his destination ; "he deer proceeded by the 
nearer road but had only gone a short distance when he 
was shot and killed. 

Moral : The easiest is not always the best. cf. All is 
not gold that glitters. 

One day a rat saw some fish and, being of a covetous 

s 273 


disposition, he immediately planned to steal them. In 
his eagerness he did not observe that the fish were in a 
trap and, consequently, he himself was caught. He cried 
out to the trap, " Why are you treating me in this 
manner ? I know of no cause of quarrel between us." 
" Oh," replied the trap, " it is because you came to 
steal what was in my possession and so I caught you 

Moral : To steal other people's goods leads to the 
punishment of the thief. 

A frog challenged a deer to a race. Before the day 
appointed for the contest, the frog entered into a league 
with all his companions and arranged that they should 
station themselves at regular intervals along the course, 
and that each should wait in readiness to answer the calls 
of the deer as he raced along towards the goal. The race 
started. The deer thought to outstrip the frog with ease, 
and soon called back in mocking tones to ask where the 
frog was. To his surprise the answer " Here I am " came 
from the opposite direction to what he expected. He 
raced along once more and repeated the challenge. Again 
a voice answered from in front of him, and once more he 
was deceived and thought he was being left behind in the 
race. The strategy was repeated all along the course until 
the deer fell down exhausted and died. 

One fine afternoon a tortoise met a fowl and inquired 
of him whither he was going ? The fowl replied that he 
was on his way to call upon the tortoise. The tortoise 
answered, " I am sorry, but I have nothing nice in my 
house wherewith to entertain you this afternoon. If, 
however, you will accompany me I will lead you to a 
beautiful udala 1 tree laden with ripe juicy fruit." When 
they arrived at the spot the tortoise besought his 
friend, the udala tree, to give them some fruit, but the 
proposal did not commend itself to the tree. Thereupon 

1 The Udala tree bears a fruit the size of a small apple. The rind is 
russet coloured, thin and brittle. It contains a milk-white sticky juioe 
which the natives, especially children, are fond of "licking." 


the tortoise suggested that the tree should drop one of 
its fruits on his back. The tree did so, and the udala 
split on the shell of the tortoise and he and the fowl 
licked up the juice. 

The tortoise said it was now the fowl's turn to stand so 
that an udala might fall upon his head. The idea fright- 
ened the fowl. He declared that if the hard fruit fell upon 
his head the blow would kill him. He was willing for it to 
fall upon his back but not upon his head. The tortoise was 
annoyed at this display of caution and taunted the fowl 
with it, which led to a sharp quarrel between them. 
Meantime neither of them could enjoy the fruit and, 
realizing this, the fowl at length consented to the proposal. 
He called upon the tree to drop another fruit. When it 
fell on the fowl's head it killed him. The tortoise, regard- 
less of his friend's fate, licked up the juice of the udala and 
then carried the dead fowl to his home and cooked and 
ate him. 

From one of the legs of the fowl he manufactured a flute 
and he used to sit outside his house and play "tilo ntiloo 
tiloo, egwu nara n'obodo ayi," i.e. " music and dancing are 
taking place (being played) in our town." One day a 
hawk flew down and said, " Oh ! tortoise, what price did 
you pay for the flute ? Let me examine it ; it appears to 
be a very nice one, please let me try it." " Oh ! no ! " 
replied the tortoise. " I know your cunning craftiness. 
Were I to place it in your hands (claws) you would 
immediately fly off with it." The hawk declared he would 
not be guilty of such a naughty trick, and that if the 
tortoise did not trust him let him cling to his feathers and 
thus prevent him from flying off with the flute. The 
suspicions of the tortoise were allayed ; he caught hold of 
a feather and allowed the hawk to take the flute. Suddenly 
the hawk soared up into the air leaving the tortoise nothing 
but the feather. He was extremely vexed with the hawk 
and at once began to plan how he might recover his instru- 
ment. He kept a close watch on the movements of the 
hawk and one day saw him set forth on an important 
mission. The tortoise made his way to the hawk's nest in 
the guise of a messenger. He met the hawk's mother and 


informed her that her son had forgotten to take his flute 
when starting on his journey, and that he had been com- 
missioned to bring it. Unsuspectingly the mother handed 
over the flute to the tortoise, who quickly made his way 
again to his own home. 

On his return, the hawk heard the sounds of music 
and recognised whence they came. At once he inquired 
of his mother who had restored the flute to the tor- 
toise ? She replied that she had done so under the im- 
pression that she was fulfilling his command, whereupon 
the hawk was so enraged that he seized her and threw 
her on the fire. Afterwards he repented of his hasty 
action and went to try and rescue his parent, but he was 
too late. 

This is the reason why the hawks hover over bush fires ! 
They are seeking their old, old grandmother ! 

Once upon a time a man had a daughter named Manu 
(oil). She was very tall and beautiful. Many suitors 
sought her in marriage, but they withdrew when the 
parents informed them that, though their daughter pos- 
sessed many attractive qualities, yet she could neither 
cook food nor work in the sun. Such limitations were 
fatal ; no man in his senses would marry a girl who could 
not cook ! Later on, however, a rich farmer came along 
and agreed to marry her for her beauty. He led her to 
his home and gave strict instructions to all his servants on 
no account to allow fire to come near her, and to prevent 
her venturing out into the sun. 

Some time afterwards the farmer departed to his farm 
taking all his servants with him, with the exception of one 
who feigned sickness. This one was ordered to cook for 
the lady, but he deliberately neglected this duty. Presently 
Manu grew hungry and, no food being forthcoming, she 
went to the kitchen in order to prepare a meal for herself. 
The heat overcame her ; she collapsed and melted ! The 
parrot was taking note of all these things but knew no 
way of informing the farmer. Whilst in this state of per- 
plexity he had an inspiration. He dipped his tail in the 
now liquid Manu (which is of a reddish colour) and flew 


to where the farmer was at work and, perching on a tree 
near by, began to sing : — 

(t O ! merry farmer, look at me, 
And if you look at me you'll see 
That what you left at home is lost. 
Look at my tail and you will guess." 

The farmer looked at the parrot and perceived that his 
tail, which was formerly grey, was now red and, immedi- 
ately he realized that his wife Manu had met with an 
accident and had melted. 

This is the reason why the tail of the West African grey 
parrot is red ! 

One day a tortoise challenged a buffalo to a tug-of-war. 
The buffalo poked fun at him and said, " Who will give 
you strength to pull against me?" The tortoise replied, 
" Never mind; wait and see." So they appointed a day 
and drew up rules for the contest, deciding particularly 
upon the signal for starting. The tortoise straightway 
went and challenged an elephant, and concluded arrange- 
ments for a contest on the same terms. 

When the day arrived the tortoise fastened one end of 
the rope round the neck of the buffalo and then acted as if 
he were proceeding to take hold of the other end. But the 
rope was of such a length that, when stretched, one com- 
petitor was out of sight of the other. The tortoise called 
the elephant and tied the rope to his neck, and went 
through a similar manoeuvre to that practised with the 
buffalo. At the agreed signal the two began to pull and 
strain, and the struggle became so furious that it ended 
in the death of both. 

The tortoise congratulated himself on the strategy 
whereby he had obtained so much meat for so little trouble. 
As he was cutting it up, he heard the wind singing in the 
trees, and he thought some people were approaching who 
might rob him of the spoil. He became angry and in his 
excitement fell upon his knife and killed himself. 

Moral : The cunning deceiver is apt to meet with a fate 
quite as miserable as that of the deceived. 


One day Apia (a bird impersonated in several Ibo fables) 
gave his wife some yams to cook. When she had prepared 
them he told her she could eat them herself, as he intended 
to dine at the house of his mother-in-law. He flew off, 
only to find that he had arrived too late for the meal. 
Full of chagrin he hastened back home and called for 
supper. In his absence his wife had consumed the food 
and he had, perforce, to go without ! This is the reason 
why the Apia is so lean and flat-chested ! 

Moral : "Be content with such things as ye have," or its 
equivalent, " A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. ,, 

There was a great famine at Idu (Benin Districts). At 
that time the big market was held on the king's ground 
" Ojisaw." Suffering from shortness of supplies, the 
tortoise hired a rabbit to burrow a tunnel from his hole to 
the market-place. When all the people were assembled 
with their wares, the tortoise and the rabbit, remaining 
hidden in the burrow, began to sing " Ubwaw ojisaw tijin 
tintiji tiji." When the people heard the unfamiliar 
sounds, and could not perceive whence they came, they 
were frightened and ran away, believing that the market 
had been invaded by the pixies. The tortoise and the 
rabbit thereupon ran out and replenished their larders 
from the goods left in the market. They practised this 
manoeuvre from time to time as need arose. 

One day they invited a lizard called Akatampwo (male 
lizard) to join them in their raiding expedition. As on 
previous occasions the people fled when they heard the 
sound of underground singing, whereat the three thieves 
ran out to steal. Akatampwo was eager to secure fish, 
and greedily seized a piece. The result was that a bone 
stuck in his mouth and he could neither eject nor swallow 
it ! He stood still, vainly bobbing his head up and down 
in his efforts to rid himself of the bone, and, as he did so, he 
accidentally dipped his head into a vessel containing palm 
oil. Hence the head of Akatampwo is red to this day ! 

Finally, he returned to the hole, and the tortoise and the 
rabbit inquired why he had come home empty-handed ? 
But Akatampwo could no longer speak; he could do 


nothing but bob his head. So it is to this day. This 
lizard is continually raising himself on his fore legs and 
bobbing his head up and down in his struggles to rid him- 
self of that fishbone ! 

Later on the suspicions of the market people were 
aroused and they accused the tortoise of trickery. He 
stoutly denied the charge and declared his readiness to 
submit the case for trial. A day was fixed for swearing 
on the ju-ju. During the interval the tortoise made a 
compact with the birds called Asha. He put a large 
number of them into a pot and instructed them to utter 
cries in accordance with a code of signals. The tortoise 
concealed the pot under a weird collection of fetish 
accessories, and he contrived to render its appearance so 
awe-inspiring that it was, in itself, sufficient to startle the 
people. When the birds began to sing it was too much for 
the assembled crowd, and they refused to proceed with the 
uncanny business. Thus the tortoise escaped by means of 
his skilful trickery. 

The tortoise returned triumphantly to his quarters, 
carrying the pot containing the little birds with him. 
They had served him loyally, but he returned evil for good. 
He placed the pot upon the fire and when the birds cried 
for mercy he mocked them. " Never before," said he, 
" had birds been used as ju-ju in such a manner." 

Presently he removed the pot from the fire expecting 
to find all the birds ready for eating. As he lifted the 
cover, however, one bird flew out, the only survivor, and 
alighted on the head of the tortoise's son. The tortoise 
cried out to his son to stand quite still, seized a cutlass and 
struck viciously, but the bird hopped to one side and the 
blow fell upon the head of the tortoise's son, killing him 
on the spot. When the tortoise recovered a little from the 
shock he turned and saw the bird perched on the back of 
his daughter. Striking blindly in his fury he was again 
deceived by the bird's quickness and, consequently, slew 
his daughter also. The bird flew to the top of a tree and, 
watching his opportunity, alighted swiftly on the back of 
the tortoise himself who, utterly perplexed with this action, 
pondered how he might overthrow his little enemy. 


Finally he decided to climb the tree, intending, when he 
reached the top, to throw himself down, and turning a 
somersault, to fall upon the bird and crush him. Once 
more, however, the bird was equal to the occasion, and as 
the tortoise dropped from the tree, the bird slipped off his 
back and flew away. The tortoise fell heavily to the earth, 
with fatal results. He who had so often deceived others 
was, at length, hoist with his own petard. 

Once upon a time the birds assembled themselves 
together to elect a king. Their choice fell upon Okili (a 
bird richly adorned with green plumage) and he was 
informed that, after three days' probation, he would be 
formally appointed. From the moment that the assembly 
announced its decision Okili began to strut about, con- 
sumed with pride and vainglory. He boasted of his 
power, of what he intended to do after his coronation, and 
generally conducted himself in such an overbearing 
manner that the birds were scared. They reconsidered 
their decision and straightway cancelled the arrange- 

Their choice next fell upon a tiny white, swallow-tailed 
bird, and he was put on a similar probation. His mother 
was harassed in spirit because her son had been chosen to 
fulfil the kingly functions. She sought means whereby she 
might strengthen him to resist the temptations of the 
position. She wished that he might be endowed with 
wisdom and honour, and especially that he might not be 
spoiled and his judgments perverted by bribery. She 
therefore went into the bush and gathered certain leaves 
wherewith to make " medicine." She pounded them and 
placed them in a pan and left them to steep in water. In 
the meantime the silly little bird came and bathed himself 
in the liquid with disastrous effects. From pure white he 
was changed to jet-black ! He rushed to the brookside, 
but the stain resisted all his efforts to remove it. Alarmed 
by the consequences of his unpremeditated act he hid him- 
self for two days until, ravenous with hunger, he whistled 
a pathetic little song : " Cha, cha, chigo, chigo," i.e. I 
have washed over and over again, 


The mother recognised the voice of her son and hurried 
to succour him. She bemoaned the change in his appear- 
ance, but, like a sensible being, did her best in the circum- 
stances. She sent to the assembly to explain matters and 
she expressed the hope that the change of colour might not 
influence them against her son. The birds decided to 
confirm the appointment declaring that " Ebwe-Awba " 
was selected because of his amiable and generous qualities, 
and that colour should not be a bar to his election. 

Hence it is that Ebwe-Awba is now king of all the birds, 
and whenever he flies abroad he is always attended by a 
company of courtiers. 

The Ibo finds the classification of the bat a perplexing 
problem, and he illustrates his difficulty by the following 

Once upon a time there was war between the animals 
and birds. A serious debate took place as to which party 
the bat would join, and he, being a wily creature, kept his 
own counsel. When the birds were in the ascendant he 
threw in his lot with them. For forty years they kept 
the animals in subjection. At last the lion and the tiger, 
in despair of overthrowing their oppressors, advised that 
measures should be taken to bring about peace. This 
counsel was derisively rejected by the other animals, who 
were of opinion that fortune was, at last, about to favour 
them, so hostilities were resumed. A watch was now set 
upon the bat's movements, and it was discovered that he 
was holding himself aloof, at that time, from both parties. 
The fox was sent to arrest him and he was brought before 
the leaders of the animals. He was charged with playing 
a double game and an explanation was demanded. His 
defence was that he had followed the advice of his wife, 
who had persuaded him to hold himself in readiness to 
join whichever party prevailed, with the view of ulti- 
mately receiving a share of the spoils. 

He was chided severely for his double-dealing and thrown 
into prison to await his trial at the conclusion of the war. 
For ten years longer the struggle continued and finally it 
ended in the complete defeat of the birds, 


The bat was summoned before the council and, finding 
the case too hard for him, he engaged a clever lawyer to 
plead his case. The advocate contended that his client 
had a perfect right to side with either party, according to 
his inclination. He based his opinion on the anatomy of the 
bat. Though not a bird yet he was equipped with wings 
and, being able to fly, he insisted that when the bat was in 
the air he was not trespassing ; all must admit that he was 
in his rightful sphere. On the other hand he was covered 
with fur, he had teeth and long ears, whereas the birds had 
none of these characteristics. All things considered there 
seemed no doubt that the bat possessed qualities which 
made it admissible for him to be termed either an animal, 
or a bird, or both. 

There was once a very wonderful man. He created the 
different parts of the Body — the Head, Feet, Hands, Eyes 
and other members. When he had completed all he placed 
them in a beautiful garden. He gave them certain laws to 
observe, the chief of which were that they should be 
liberal in almsgiving and that they should show kindness 
and hospitality to all strangers. 

One day the Creator decided to test the loyalty of the 
inmates of the garden. He disguised himself as a leper 
and appeared to them as one suffering from the loathsome 
disease in its advanced stages. He applied first to the 
Eyes for assistance, but they drove him away in disgust ; 
he next appeared to the Head and received no better 
treatment ; the Feet and the Hands also refused to 
succour him. Finally, he went to the Stomach who, whilst 
strongly inclined to turn his back on the unsightly object, 
yet remembered the commands of his Creator, and treated 
the poor beggar kindly before letting him go home. 

The next day the Creator sent messengers to the 
members he had visited. To the Eyes he sent blindness ; 
to the Head, headaches ; to the Feet, rheumatism ; to the 
Hands, paralysis; and to the Stomach, pain. All were 
commanded to attend at his court. When charged with 
ungenerous and disloyal conduct, the Stomach was the 
only one able to plead successfully " not guilty." Hence 


the Creator decreed that all the other members of the body 
should for ever be subservient to the Stomach ! The Head 
should carry its food ; the Eyes must be constantly watch- 
ing the way it should take ; the Hands were to procure 
and prepare its food ; and the Feet should carry it whither- 
soever it chose to go ! 

The Stomach being very stupid, as many young children 
are (lit.), pleaded to be allowed to share the troubles of his 
brethren. The Creator acceded to his request and there- 
fore appointed that his place should be in the forefront of 
all — a position which exposed him to many dangers. 

A note added to the above by the native who originally 
narrated the legend says, " Just think of this story ; it 
practically seems to be true — had it not been a fable." 

The following are a few examples of Proverbs in constant 
use amongst the Ibo People with whom I am acquainted. 

Ufolo k'awkpa neyi ! = The cock lays nothing ! 

Awnwu amagh dike = Death does not recognise strength. 

Adebwu dibia makana onye awnazaw nwulu = The 
doctor is never killed because his patient dies. 

Oseaka adewe obele onye = Prodigality never lays hold 
of one who is little, i.e. the poor have not the wherewithal 
to be prodigal. 

Netinye ego n'akpa, makana adamama = Put money 
in the bag because one never knows (what may happen). 
Equivalent to our, " Put by for a rainy day." 

Kwaw mili k'awdi n'awbwubwa awna maka olue na 
nkpiliukwu = Bail out the water so that it reach (only) to 
the ankles, lest it reach the knees. Akin to the English 
" A stitch in time saves nine." 

Ncha gbaw, ncha agbaw, echukawm iyi akwa = 
Whether soap washes or does not am I going to wash 
clothes ? An expressive way of saying " I don't care ! " 


Akpanye nwa nkita n'aru awtaka akwa = When you 
play with a puppy he tears your clothes. This has a 
similar meaning to " Familiarity breeds contempt." It is 
used when an adult is treated unceremoniously by children 
or servants. 

Niri kam za unaw bu awchuchu = Arise that I may 
sweep the house. This is equivalent to " Your company 
is no longer acceptable. " 

Onye lue n'ani anebe nti awbelu nkeya tinye -= When 
one reaches a land where men cut off their ears he cuts off 
his own. cf. " When in Rome do as Rome does." 

Asusu onye adadia ntulu « One's own language is never 

Ebe onye bi k'awnawachi » It is the place one lives in 
that he repairs = " Charity begins at home ! " 

Enenia nwa ite Awbawnyua awku = A small despised 
pot will boil over and put out the fire, i.e. a man may be 
insignificant and yet be overflowing with energy and 

Okelekwu amanuma ta akpa dibia ; ma dibia amanuma 
bu okelekwu awnu = Let not the rat wilfully tear the 
doctor's bag ; and let not the doctor wilfully curse the rat. 
The idea is, a child may take certain liberties with his 
elders but let him not go too far lest he bring punishment 
upon himself. Likewise let not the elder trifle with the 
child lest the child turn against him and curse him. 

K'awdi nawfu = Let it be so ; that will do. An 
intensely useful and convenient expression when one has 
had enough of anything ! 



It would not be fitting to close the foregoing sketch of 
the life and customs of the Ibo people without giving a 
brief account of missionary enterprise amongst them. 
The advent of Christianity has had a powerful and stimu- 
lating effect and great numbers of these sturdy folk have 
been led " out of darkness into light, and from the power 
of Satan unto God." Many are rejoicing to-day in the 
" liberty wherewith Christ has made us free." Among the 
annals of Missions there are few which can show such a 
noteworthy record as that of the Niger. The early and 
subsequent history is a subject of absorbing interest, 
rivalling and, in many ways, corresponding with, the 
chequered course of the exploration of the river. The task 
of tracing the Niger from its source to the Delta furnishes 
a narrative in which unbounded enthusiasm and blighted 
hopes are in sharp and unusual contrast. The record of 
the establishment of missions in these regions is very 
similar in character. 

Failure and success, disappointment and encouragement, 
grief and joy, are interwoven in a manner unparalleled 
in the conquests of the Cross. But as, out of death and 
disaster, there finally emerged British Nigeria, so likewise 
from feeble and uncertain beginnings Christianity is 
steadily progressing, gathering force, and extending its 
influence daily. For many years the tide ebbed and 
flowed, hope and despair alternated, but for the last 
fifteen years especially, expansion has been the key-note 
of all things Nigerian, including missions. Simultaneously 
with the general opening up of the country and increase 



of prosperity on the Niger, the frontiers of the kingdom 
of God have been enlarged more and more. 

Certain names stand out pre-eminently in the early 
history of the Niger Mission. In the Expedition of 1841 
room was found for two uncommonly able men, the Rev. 
J. Schon, a distinguished linguist, at that time a mis- 
sionary in Sierra Leone, and Samuel Adjai Crowther. 
The life of the latter is inextricably bound up with the 
establishment of Christianity amongst the Ibos and other 
tribes of Southern Nigeria. For fifty years the whole 
history of the Mission centres round this extraordinary 
man. He was instrumental in laying the foundations of 
the work, and if his associates had proved as zealous 
and faithful as he was himself, there would have been a 
truly marvellous story to relate. His career was absolutely 
unique ; there is nothing to equal it in the records of West 
Africa. " A kidnapped slave in 1821, rescued in 1822, a 
Mission school-boy in 1823, a baptized Christian in 1825, 
a college student in 1826, a teacher in 1828, a clergyman in 
1843, a missionary to the country whence he had been 
stolen in 1845, the founder of a new Mission (the Niger) 
in 1857, the first negro bishop in 1864 — where is the par- 
allel to such a life ? Ten times in seventy years he came 
to England. He accomplished much in Africa. Amid 
circumstances of almost unexampled difficulty he went 
steadily on his way ; and if the Upper Niger in his lifetime 
bore little fruit, the Delta to-day, with its cannibalism 
and infanticide and horrible superstitions praclically at 
an end — though not its Sin, and who could expect that ? — 
is a monument to Bishop Crowther's indomitable persever- 
ance in a holy cause. He lived in an atmosphere of sus- 
picion and scandal, yet no tongue, however malicious, 
ventured to whisper reproach against his personal character. 
Some might criticise his administration ; no one ever 
questioned his sincerity and simplicity." Such is the 
testimony as written by Dr. Stock, the historian of the 
C.M.S. in the Preface contributed by him to Jesse Page's 
valuable life of the Black Bishop. 

Schon recorded it as his opinion that on the Niger 
there was a wide field open to the Gospel, but that not 


much good could be expected unless the various tribes 
were addressed each in its own language. At the same time 
he advised that, in whatever part of the country a mission 
was established, English should be introduced. He was 
greatly impressed with the necessity for the employment 
of natives as evangelists and teachers, in a country, the 
unhealthiness of which rendered it impossible, as he 
thought, for Europeans to carry on the work. He urged 
the adoption of measures whereby the natives of Africa 
should become missionaries to their own people. 

The first two proposals were, and still are, in strict 
accordance with the general policy adopted in all missions 
of the Church Missionary Society, i.e. the insistence on 
the use of the vernacular in all primary work, followed 
at the proper stage by the introduction of English. Trans- 
lations of the Scriptures and other books have been 
made, and this branch of work continues to occupy a 
prominent position in our missionary policy. 

The employment of natives in this unhealthy sphere, 
sound enough in its conception, proved disastrous in 
practice. Its adoption led to bitter disappointment, and 
the incubus of failure was only removed when the original 
plan was modified and European missionaries were sent 
out to support and direct the labours of their African 

The advantages of Native Agency were never more 
obvious than they are at the present moment, but ex- 
perience proves, beyond all doubt, that the most effective 
work is that accomplished by the united efforts of Euro- 
peans and Africans. Native workers are absolutely 
essential to the cause of Missions, and Schon's main prin- 
ciple remains substantially as he laid it down. It is 
modified only by the introduction of a European element 
whose paramount work is to train and direct the native 
teachers. Working on these lines signs are not wanting 
to prove that the forces of the Gospel are steadily making 
their influence felt over a great part of Southern Nigeria, 
and even to the regions beyond. 

Aboh was the first place suggested as a possible Mission 
Station on the Niger. In early days it appears to have 


been an important centre. The king (obi) was greatly 
impressed by the fact that a former slave, well known in 
the district, had been taught to read and write. Indeed 
it was chiefly owing to this ex-slave's valuable assistance 
that Dr. Baikie and his companions in the expedition of 
1854 were given a peaceable reception instead of the 
hostile one which they feared. The king expressed himself 
as perfectly willing to allow teachers to reside amongst his 
people, and a parcel of land was selected for a mission 
centre. Little, however, was ever done at this town, and 
as the years have passed, its importance has gradually 
declined. Further up the river, Osumali was thought to 
offer favourable prospects, more particularly because 
great numbers of people from the interior were accustomed 
to visit it for trading purposes. For some years it had a 
resident evangelist, but the station was abandoned before 
my time (1900) and it has not since been re-occupied. 
Onitsha was finally chosen as the base of operations, and 
later, Asaba, these two places seeming the most promising 
for commencing missionary work amongst the Ibos. It 
was to the former place that the Rev. S. Crowther (to 
whom was entrusted the task of founding the Niger 
Mission) appointed the Rev. J. Taylor, with instructions 
to begin work at once. They arrived on July 27th, 1857. 
Taylor was a native clergyman, born in Sierra Leone, 
whose parents had been deported from the Ibo country 
as slaves. 1 

Dr. Baikie (in command of the expedition) and Captain 
Grant, visited the King of Onitsha. The former ex- 
plained the objects of their visit, and Taylor was intro- 
duced as the religious teacher who was to reside amongst 
them. King and people expressed their agreement with 
the proposals set forth. The site then selected for the 
Mission Church was taken over by the Government about 
ten years ago and converted into a cemetery. The 
original land granted to the Mission on which to build 
dwelling houses is still in the occupation of the C.M.S., 
and in July, 1907, the jubilee of the establishment of the 

1 Judging from Taylor's trans! ational work his parents were natives 
of the Bonny District. 

^ a. 


H a. 


Mission was celebrated beneath the tamarisk tree which 
Crowther had planted fifty years previously. 1 Before 
proceeding up river Dr. Baikie, Lieut. Grover and the Rev. 
S. Crowther again visited the king, and he, with his 
councillors, " promised to abolish human sacrifices, and 
to exclude strangers from the white man's country from 
the law which allows no mat, or any kind of seat except 
the bare ground, to strangers visiting the Court." 

Crowther issued for Taylor's guidance written instruc- 
tions, remarkable for their perception and sound judgment. 
He enjoins him to remember that " the first and most 
important place to which your attention should be chiefly 
directed is Onitsha, which appears to be the high road 
to the heart of the Ibo nation." On August 27th, Divine 
service was conducted for the first time in Ibo-land. Mis- 
sionaries and traders combined in this prophetic effort, 
which was attended by from 200 to 400 natives. On the 
afternoon of the same day a much larger audience was 
present in the compound of King Akazua. On Sept. 13th, 
use was made for the first time of Taylor's revised Ibo 
translation of the Lord's Prayer ; ten days later a visit 
was paid to Obusi, to the S.S.E. of Onitsha. In November, 
a canoe journey up the Anambala Creek gave the mis- 
sionary party an opportunity of inaugurating work at 
Nsubwe, where they received a cordial welcome. On 
December 11th, the foundation of the first Mission House 
was laid, and three months later it was ready for occupa- 
tion. Taylor paid visits to Oko and Asaba, and during the 
fifteen months he lived at Onitsha he succeeded in gather- 
ing around him a devoted little congregation. He busied 
himself in translational work and collected information 
concerning the country and the customs of the people. 
To those acquainted with Onitsha at the present time 
the journal compiled by Taylor is of the greatest interest. 
To this son of rescued Ibo slaves belongs the honour of 
introducing Christianity into the Ibo country. 

1 Boxes of plants selected by Mr. Barter, the botanist of the expedition, 
were brought from Sierra Leone and Fernando Po. These were planted 
at Onitsha and Lokoja, hence the oranges, guavap, mangoes, limes and 
other fruits now abounding in the compounds of all the old mission stations. 



On Oct. 27th, 1858, Crowther and Taylor left Onitsha 
on the Rainbow. 1 As the vessel was navigating the waters 
of the Delta, she was fired upon by the natives and two 
men were killed. The Government failed to provide the 
gunboat which they had promised should accompany 
the next trading steamer, and Crowther and Taylor, who 
had proceeded to the Nun entrance of the river to await 
it, were forced to return to Lagos disappointed. The 
death of Macgregor Laird followed soon after, and this 
event led to the withdrawal of his steamers and the closing 
of his trading factories on the Niger. 

Crowther then gathered together a missionary party 
of thirty-three persons and journeyed with them to 
Akassa, with a view to the permanent occupation of 
missionary stations on the Niger. It was confidently 
expected that passages would be available on H.M.S. 
Investigator, but when she appeared, to the chagrin of 
Crowther, the commander announced that he had re- 
ceived no instructions to carry passengers, but so great 
was the sympathy of the ship's company, that room was 
made for twenty-seven of the party. 

Te strengthen the Mission, five Europeans were ap- 
pointed, but only two of them reached even the mouth of 
the Niger. One of these quickly fell a victim to malaria 
and died ; the other was invalided to England. 

It seemed hopeless to expect Europeans to live on the 
Niger, hence the idea was conceived of forming a mission 
to be staffed entirely by Africans. Necessity seemed to 
demand this course and with the necessity came the man 
for the task. 

In March, 1864, Crowther came to England, reported 
on his experiences, and laid his proposals before the 
authorities. Negotiations were opened with a view to his 
consecration as Bishop of the Niger, Archbishop Longley 
warmly pressing the scheme on the Government. Lord 
John Russell, then Foreign Secretary, cordially assented, 
and the Queen's licence was issued to the Primate, em- 
powering him to consecrate " Our trusty and well-beloved 

1 The Day8pring, the vessel which had taken out the expedition, was 
wrecked at Rabba on October 27th, the previous year. 


Samuel Adjai Crowther, Clerk in Holy Orders, to be a 
Bishop of the Church of England in the West African 
territories beyond the British Dominions." 

His linguistic and other talents were recognised and the 
University of Oxford conferred upon him an honorary 
D.D. degree, Convocation conferring it almost unani- 
mously. On St. Peter's Day (June 29th), 1864, in Canter- 
bury Cathedral, he was consecrated Bishop of the Niger. 

On his return to West Africa, the " black Bishop " 
was treated with the utmost respect by the Governors of 
Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Lagos. He proceeded 
to the Niger on H.M.S. Investigator, which was taking 
stores for Dr. Baikie, who was now established as Consul 
at Lokoja. Crowther visited the Mission Stations, ordained 
deacon one of the catechists, confirmed some converts, 
and returned to Lagos, his permanent head-quarters. He 
paid visits of some months' duration to the Niger as op- 
portunity offered. For these journeys he was entirely 
dependent upon the occasional visits of Government 
vessels, until traders, already active in the Delta, began 
to settle up the river. Gradually he was able to increase 
his mission staff, obtaining negro catechists and school- 
masters from Sierra Leone, appointing them to different 
stations, and ordaining those who seemed fit. By 1871, 
he had ordained eight such men, in addition to his own 
son Daudeson. 1 The principal work continued to be up 
the river, especially at Onitsha, and at Lokoja. Crowther 
never asked a favour to be allowed to send a teacher to a 
town ; he always insisted that he came for the good of 
the people, and that they must provide the necessary 
dwelling and other buildings, or give him the money to 
build them. 

In 1861, King William Pepple, 2 of Bonny, wrote to the 
Bishop of London requesting that a Christian Mission 
should be established in his country. The appeal was 
passed on to Crowther, and in 1864 a schoolmaster began 

1 Since 1878, Archdeacon of the Delta Pastorate Church. He took 
charge of the Mission at Bonny in 1871. 

8 This man was of titular rank and also a trader. Whilst on a visit to 
England he had received this name in baptism. 


work in a small way ; in 1866 a proper building was 
opened for services. The history of the early years of the 
Bonny mission is full of thrilling incidents, such as the 
jealous counter-moves of the ju-ju priests, the destruction 
of the sacred iguanas through the influence of King William 
Pepple, and, in 1873, the outbreak of persecutions, which 
extended for several years, and resulted in the martyrdom 
of some of the converts. The leading persecutor was 
" Captain Hart," a native chief, who had assumed an 
English name. For five years he troubled the Church 
and then, in 1878, softened by the death of his wife, he 
" sent for Mr. Crowther, listened to his words, went to 
the other chiefs, and then, with them, granted religious 
liberty." In the following year he died, having on his 
death-bed renounced idolatry, and given orders for the 
destruction of all his idols. From this time huge con- 
gregations attended St. Stephen's Church, and great pro- 
gress was made. 

Three important steps were taken in 1878, viz. the 
fitting out of a steamer to facilitate travelling on the 
Niger, the sending out of an English layman to take 
charge of the boat, to keep the accounts and to do other 
secular duties of the Mission, and the appointing of two 
African clergymen to be Archdeacons. 

The native evangelists had been much isolated and did 
not receive the guidance and superintendence that were 
necessary. However upright their lives, they were liable 
to suspicion and false accusations (the bane of West 
African Society). They were, indeed, beset by manifold 
temptations, and some fell grievously. In their lonely 
Stations they lacked the stimulating influence of Christian 
fellowship. Some succumbed to the peculiarly besetting 
sins of West Africa — drink and immorality, whilst others, 
overcome by avarice, were tempted to forsake their high 
calling in order to become traders. Reports of these 
irregularities gave rise to great anxiety amongst the 
mission authorities in London, which was increased when 
communications came to hand giving details of a serious 
offence committed at Onitsha. The case was made the 
subject of a great debate in the House of Lords ; bitter 


attacks were made upon the C.M.S., and the Niger Mission 
was particularly denounced. These scathing criticisms 
were, however, valiantly met and vanquished by Earl 
Cairns and Archbishop Benson, both of whom paid high 
tributes to the work of the Society. 

Out of this fiery sifting, from the debris of what ap- 
peared to be a ruined cause, there sprang forth a new 
order of things. That was the darkest hour, which ushered 
in the dawn of brighter hopes ; a dawn which has continued 
to shine forth more and whose light must grow brighter 
and clearer until the Sun of Righteousness shall illumine 
the whole of Ibo-land. Even in those dark days there were 
evidences of the power of the Gospel. At Onitsha, for 
instance, there was a marked movement towards Christ- 
ianity. In the Delta, snake and lizard worship was dis- 
appearing, and Mr. (now Sir) H. H. Johnston, lecturing 
before the Royal Geographical Society (Nov. 12th, 1888) 
declared that : " For its effectual abolishment, which 
has been of the greatest benefit to the well-being of 
Europeans and natives alike, we owe our thanks, not to 
the intervention of Naval or Consular officials, nor to 
the bluff remonstrances of traders, but to the quiet, 
increasing labours of the agents of the Church Missionary 

In 1887, the Rev. John Alfred Robinson, the Cambridge 
Scholar, went to live on the Niger as English Secretary. 
He was not satisfied with the native teachers nor with the 
plans and policy of the Mission in some respects, nor with 
the results achieved. He was later on joined by Graham 
Wilmot Brooke, 1 and these two became joint leaders 
of a new Mission to the Mohammedans in the Northern 
Provinces. The adoption of their proposals led to a change 

1 Son of Colonel Brooke ; a young man of extraordinary capacity and 
great fervour who had been educated for the Army. He had been trying 
to reach the heart of Mohammedan Africa, as a result of his intercourse 
with General Gordon in 1881. In 1884, he essayed to cross the Sahara from 
Algiers, but failed. In 1885, he went up the Senegal but could not get 
far enough. In 1887-8, he was on the Congo and ascended the Mobangi 
lat. 2° N. but was driven back by cannibal tribes. Then he visited the 
Niger and at once concluded that it was the true way to the Central 


in organisation. From this time the Lower Niger and the 
Delta formed a separate Mission. 

On Dec. 31st, 1891, came the news of the death of that 
unique product of modern missions, Bishop Samuel 
Crowther, after seventy years of ceaseless activity in the 
service of God in West Africa. " His works do follow him." 
No man could wish for a grander and more fitting memorial 
than the striking expansion of the Missions which he was 
privileged to found on the banks of the Niger. 

Soon after the death of Bishop Crowther, the work in 
the Delta was consolidated into a Native Pastorate. It 
speaks well for the initiative and ability of West African 
Christians that from that day to this they have staffed 
and maintained the Churches in the Delta districts, and 
have perseveringly developed the various organisations 
in connection therewith, without financial assistance 
from the parent society. It was a bold adventure, de- 
manding great faith on the part of the originators of the 
scheme. That they have not attained all they desire or 
deserve, and that their work has not advanced with the 
rapidity and vigour that they hoped is, perhaps, natural ; 
but the fact cannot be gainsaid that a truly marvellous 
work has been accomplished in circumstances that have 
frequently been the reverse of easy. There are many 
evidences of self-sacrifice and painstaking energy on behalf 
of the Kingdom of God in these swampy and pestilential 

The formation of the Niger Delta Pastorate enabled 
the C.M.S. to concentrate their forces more particularly 
on the central parts of the Ibo country, with Onitsha 
as the base of missionaries' operations. The advent of 
lady-missionaries, in the early nineties, led to further 
developments. At a later stage, Medical Mission work 
was started, an agency of inestimable blessing and value 
to Europeans and natives alike. Its salutary effects are 
manifest on all sides, and its influence on every other 
department of missionary organisation is of the greatest 
benefit. It removes prejudice, creates opportunities for 
evangelistic effort and alleviates an immense amount of 
suffering. By it natives from unknown parts are brought 


into direct contact with Christianity in a particularly 
attractive and appealing form, and this leads to the evan- 
gelisation of hitherto unoccupied towns and villages. 

The decade 1890-1900 was a peculiarly trying and 
difficult one for various reasons. The Mission was sadly 
crippled from time to time owing to the death or com- 
pulsory withdrawals of European helpers. The climatic 
conditions taxed the health of the English missionaries 
greatly, the traditional evil reputation of the Niger being 
fully maintained in this respect. Nevertheless there was 
no looking back. A much-needed work of purification and 
consolidation was accomplished and the foundations of 
the Mission more firmly established. 

On the eastern side of the river the hostility of the 
natives was an effective bar to the extension of operations 
into new territory. This, to a certain extent, was pro- 
vidential, inasmuch as it resulted in the r labours of the 
missionaries being focussed on the old stations of Onitsha, 
Obusi, and Asaba, and it was from these places that native 
teachers were drawn when the opportunity to advance 
presented itself. On the western side of the river this 
advance became feasible several years earlier than on 
the eastern, and vigorous steps were taken which led to 
new and successful work in the hinterland of Asaba. 

An adequate review of this period in the history of the 
Mission would require a volume to itself. Space fails us 
to tell of the selfless devotion and burning zeal of Robinson 
and Brooke, cut short by death as they crossed the 
threshold of the great sphere of work upon which they had 
set their hearts ; of the band of consecrated men and women 
who rallied to the side of Bishop Hill, as he set forth intent 
on the great work committed to his charge ; of the utter 
breakdown of the plans for advance, and the crushing 
blow which their fair prospects sustained within a few 
weeks, owing to the terrible disasters which befell the 
party (only one of Bishop Hill's party reached Onitsha, 
and within eighteen months he too laid down his life, 
leaving but one survivor of the fourteen who had set forth 
fired with the bold enthusiasm of their leader) and of the 
steadfast and patient labours of Henry Hughes Dobinson, 


who by his self-sacrificing life and magnanimous spirit 
won the affection of the Ibo people as perhaps no other 
European has been privileged to do. To these simple folk 
he was the embodiment of the mind and character of 
Christ, and to this day his memory is fragrant amongst 
them. His grave at Onitsha serves to remind us of his 
well-spent life, and his name is perpetuated by the sub- 
stantial building which has been erected to form the Out- 
patient Department of the Medical Mission — a fitting 
tribute to one who poured out his life in the service of 
others. Repton and Oxford never trained a man who was 
more loved, and whose powers were more deeply conse- 
crated to his God. He could ill be spared, yet God took 
him, and the splendid cause for which he laid down his 
life calls more insistently than ever for others to follow 
in his steps. 

Others there were whose names are less widely known • 
but who counted not their lives dear unto themselves, 
and whose faithful ministry has left an indelible impression 
upon the hearts of the people. They laboured to build 
up the Church of God in this part of Ibo-land, adding 
their quota of living stones, whether few or many, to the 
sacred edifice, until, their work accomplished, they entered 
into rest, or were transferred to other spheres of service. 
Lack of space forbids that a record be made here of their 
deeds of faith, but this at least must be said, that their 
labour of love has not been in vain. The names of many 
are as " precious ointment " and " their works do follow 
them." The blood of the martyrs, the seed of the Church, 
has been sown, and was, and is, in the unfailing Providence 
of God, destined to bring forth an abundant harvest in 
this great field. 



Of late years it has become fashionable to write freely 
and not always with due regard to accuracy, concerning 
the apparent success of Mohammedanism in Nigeria, and 
the alleged failure of Christianity. It is asserted that the 
ethics of the former are eminently suited to the Nigerian. 
" Everything," it is stated, "is in favour of Islam." It 
does not " insist upon exacting demands with regard to 
sex-relationships, contrary to the promptings of nature." 
In other words, it stands for the flesh which " lusteth 
against the Spirit." It is the expression of the doctrine 
to " do-as-you-please," to follow the " promptings of 
nature," as against the crucifixion of the " flesh with the 
affections and lusts " ; in short, it is the very antithesis 
of the teaching of Jesus Christ. " Conversion to Islam 
does not mean for the converted a break with his interests 
(there is neither demand for repentance nor need of 
forgiveness), his family, his social life, his respect for the 
authority of his rulers. He is not left stranded as the 
Christian Church, having once converted, leaves him, a 
pitiful, rudderless barque upon a troubled sea. He does 
not become, through conversion, an alien in thought, in 
custom, and in outlook ; a foreigner in his own land, a 
citizen of none." 1 

Contrast the above with the words of H. E. Sir Frederick 
Lugard, who has spent the best part of his life in Africa, 
as against the former writer's three months' tour. Whilst 
admitting that " Mohammedanism has done much to 
check the cruelty consequent on the superstitions of 

1 Nigeria : Its Peoples and its Problems" E. D. Morel, p. 217. 



pagan people," yet, " in our view it does not, either as 
an ethical code or as a spiritual force, approach to the 
Gospel.' 5 

Or again, compare the statements of another student of 
many years' experience in Northern Nigeria, who says, 1 
in his notes upon the Nupe kingdom, and the effects of 
its adoption of Islam : 

" Mohammedanism has introduced no new manufactures, 
has drenched the country with blood, has destroyed num- 
berless towns and villages, and has, as far as one can learn, 
distinctly lowered the morals of the people. True it has 
introduced a better idea of justice by creating the office of 
judge as distinct from that of a king, and we must also 
place to the credit of Islam the beginnings of the idea of 
education. It is also a distinct gain to the people that 
they have been taught the idea of a life beyond the 
grave, and of rewards and punishments after this life is 

" On the other side must be placed the degradation of 
womanhood that has followed the introduction of Islam. 
The average pagan negro has his own ideas as to the 
subordination of women, but there is nothing to prevent 
a woman from rising, by her industry or ability, to high 
positions. But Mohammedanism changes all this, and 
woman has a distinctly lower position in a Mohammedan 
community than she occupies among pagans. 

" Closely connected with this, and with the organised 
system of divorce that Mohammedanism introduces, is 
the prevalence of immorality in the Mohammedan areas 
of the country. The Mohammedan towns are terrible 
hotbeds of disease, while the pagan tribes are comparatively 
free from this scourge. Last of all, Mohammedanism 
cannot escape the onus of having added vastly to the sum 
of human misery in Nigeria by its relentless and systematic 
slave-raiding. The selling of captives taken in warfare, and 
the kidnapping of stray people along the roads used to go 
on everywhere, but it was the Moslems who, as it were, 
reduced it to a fine art, and practically made it their great 
business in life. A favourite saying among the Moham- 

1 Moslem World, Vol. II, No. 2, 


medan Nupes is, ' God has given us the heathen for bread/ 
and slave-raiding was practically their means of living 
until the British Government came and put it down with 
a strong hand. A living tribute of men and women was 
demanded from the surrounding pagan tribes every year, 
and if they refused to give it their country was raided and 
hundreds were captured. Whole districts have been 
depopulated, not only by these raids, but by the systematic 
draining away of all the young and able-bodied people as 
tribute, year after year, till only the old and infirm were 
left. An impartial examination of what Mohammedanism 
has done for the Nupes would show conclusively that the 
evil far outweighs the good.' 

And this is the religious system which, we are asked to 
believe, is the one above all others most suited to the 
Nigerian. It seems incredible that any English writer 
could be found to advocate it. It is not only non-Christian, 
but essentially non-British in its conceptions, its ideals, 
its ethics, and its principles. Mr. Morel's assertions would 
be ludicrous were they not so ingeniously stated, and thus 
calculated to mislead many who depend upon and form 
their opinions on what they gather from books. 

Moreover, it is affirmed that Christianity is injurious to 
family life and affection ; it introduces elements of discord ; 
it leads to disloyalty to rulers and want of respect to 
elders. Further, that it has a " hurtful and disintegrating 
influence." It sets up a system of social inequality ; it 
destroys racial identity, and it has one very serious handi- 
cap, viz. it separates and distinguishes between politics 
and religion. It is somewhat difficult to consider this last 
as a handicap to Christianity. Most religiously-minded 
people would probably be inclined to regard the insepar- 
ability of religion and politics as a reason for opposing 
Islam ! Apparently, then, Christianity is hopelessly out- 
matched. Such a clever prima facie case is made out for 
Mohammedanism that to continue Christian Missions 
would appear to be culpable stupidity. The Christian 
religion obviously has no chance against Islam. We 
marvel at the flow of rhetorical invective ; yet, in spite of 
it all, not one single missionary, white or black, male or 


female, Anglican or Free Church, Protestant or Catholic, 
has been induced to abandon the task or deviate from the 
course which he or she has adopted. We are strongly 
inclined to think that not many in Nigeria have been led 
astray by Mr. Morel's conclusions, and probably not one 
of the 4,500 agents of the Protestant missionary societies 
in Africa would subscribe to his views. The consensus of 
opinion from workers on the spot, supported by their 
2,000,000 converts to Christianity, needs a lot of explaining 

In Mr. Morel's book, Nigeria : Its Peoples and its Problems, 
a long paragraph is devoted to the question of African 
dress. He says that it is " picturesque." " The robe of 
the Moslem is much healthier for him." The author 
proceeds to say : " Nothing to my mind is more pitiable 
than to visit school after school in West Africa and to 
see boys and girls in an alien dress." The writer is quite 
correct in describing the Mohammedan costume as " pic- 
turesque," but it is very evident that he viewed it chiefly 
from a distance. Had he mingled freely with the Moslems 
in the markets his olfactory nerve would have convinced 
him that it was something else besides " picturesque." 
The combined odour of generous applications of musk, 
and the effluvia of yards of unwashed cloth, is not particu- 
larly choice, nor can trousers with a waistband twelve feet 
in circumference, with its accumulation of gathers round 
the body, be honestly commended as specially hygienic 
in the tropics ! Similar comments apply to the unwieldly 
tobe (outer gown covering the wearer's whole body), so 
graceful, and as a rule so dirty. Abundance of material is 
a prominent feature of its make-up, and the long flowing 
skirts and surplice-like sleeves constantly trail along the 
ground as the men walk, and when they sit down the 
voluminous garments act as a germ trap, unrivalled by 
any other form of dress worn in the tropics. The occupa- 
tion, in leisure moments, of those who wear this costume, 
may more suitably be imagined than described ! The 
fact that the native becomes inured to the bites of certain 
insects, does not make the " picturesque " dress more 
sanitary. A layman makes an unqualified assertion that 


such a garb is healthy ; the medical profession would 
probably pronounce a decidedly opposite verdict. It 
certainly is not clean. The general effect is pleasing to 
the eye, but of the things not seen the less said the 
better. 1 

Again, quoting from the writer of the notes on the 
Nupe nation, 2 we find an allusion to this prejudice 
against " alien dress." 

He says, " Another powerful factor in favour of Islam 
as opposed to Christianity, is the curious attitude of con- 
tempt towards native Christians generally adopted by 
officials, most of whom seem to think that Christianity 
should be reserved exclusively for Europeans. The average 
official sees a ' mission boy ' clothed in a washing jacket 
and trousers, and he says how unnecessary it all is ; he 
sees a native (Moslem) in his voluminous and filthy gar- 
ments which are never washed, and are quite unsuited for 
almost any kind of manual work, and he says 4 how 
picturesque.' He is annoyed when he finds that a native, 
by reason of his being a Christian, can read and write, but 
he looks with awe and admiration at the native scribe 
who writes a crabbed Arabic script that can scarcely be 

One further point calls for notice. Where did Mr. 
Morel " visit school after school " ? During his few 
days' stay in the Ibo country there is no record of his 
entering a single C.M.S. school, hence his remarks must 
apply either to the one Roman Catholic or the one Govern- 
ment school which he might have visited. If he paid no 
more attention to schools in other parts of the Protectorate 
than he did to those on the Niger during his rapid tour, 
then his statements are not based upon personal investiga- 
tion, and are for all practical purposes worthless. 

I will confine my concluding remarks to the effects of 

1 The average European makes a great mistake. Whenever he sees a 
native dressed in a tobe he is apt, without further inquiry, to conclude 
that the wearer is a Mohammedan. This is a fruitful source of error,, 
inasmuch as a great many natives adopt this form of dress who are not, 
and never were, Moslems. 

2 Modem World, Vol. II, No. 2. 


Mohammedanism upon the Ibos. We are told that " in 
the great native markets, such as Onitsha, the tattooed 
pagan Ibo rubs shoulders with the Mohammedan Hausa, 
Nupe and Igarra." Does this imply that he is influenced 
in any other way than in matters of trade ? Mr. Morel 
omits to state that on the very edge of that same market, 
within a stone's throw of the old Mohammedan slave 
mart, there stands the largest church in Ibo-land, and one 
of three built in Onitsha after many years of Moslem im- 
migration. I am not aware of the existence of a single 
mosque there, or anywhere else in the Ibo country. 

At Onitsha the forces of Christianity and Islam are side 
by side, and what do we find ? Islam is still entirely con- 
fined to foreigners ; not a single Ibo is known to us, so 
far, who has embraced Mohammedanism. The Moslem 
population has increased enormously during the last 
twenty years, but the increase is solely due to the influx 
of immigrants from the north, and amongst these there 
is a growing tendency to practise the barest modicum of 
the outward forms of their religion. By many nominal 
adherents of Islam, abstinence from such things as spirits 
and tobacco has been abandoned, together with many of 
the rules so rigidly observed by strict Moslems, and they 
make no pretence to anything more than the mechanical 
performance of their religious duties. 

I have made inquiries during the last seventeen years, 
in many directions, of missionaries, commissioners and 
traders, and also of intelligent natives, and have yet to 
hear of the first case of an Ibo forsaking paganism for 
Mohammedanism. As far as the Ibos are concerned I 
have not the slightest hesitation in asserting that the 
chapter dealing with Christianity and Islam, above quoted, 
is utterly misleading. The arguments advanced are 
specious and skilfully marshalled, but they are based very 
largely on antecedent presumptions and not on experience. 
Such sweeping statements are not borne out by facts 
and ought not to be offered even to the guileless British 

Whilst there is no case on record of an Ibo becoming 
a convert to Islam, yet every Christian missionary is 


keenly alive to the threatening situation. All are aware 
of the increased numbers of the emissaries of the Prophet 
in the country. We are fully prepared to admit that their 
influence must make itself felt sooner or later. We recog- 
nise facts as they are and endeavour to do so in a level- 
headed and unbiassed manner. Wherever we go we meet 
with the ubiquitous representatives of Islam. The pacifica- 
tion of the country by the British has opened up trade to 
the Mohammedan as effectively as to the European, in 
fact more so, because the former can carry his goods here, 
there and everywhere, he can subsist on native food, and 
is inured to the treacherous climate. He possesses enor- 
mous natural advantages over the European. Many large 
towns now have a Mohammedan quarter or the beginning 
of one. The Mohammedan invasion, no doubt, is playing 
its part in the break-up of the ancient pagan systems. 
The selling of Moslem amulets and charms is a profitable 
business ; the Ibos buy them and regard them as glorified 
fetishes. They do not in any way connect them with the 
Moslem faith, in fact, the Mohammedans themselves treat 
them, generally speaking, as simple fetish charms. We 
recognise, too, that every follower of Islam is, in a certain 
sense, a missionary. By this we mean that he is never 
ashamed of his religion, and is prepared to endure persecu- 
tion, and possibly loss, rather than forsake or hide it. 
It is an essential part of him, and has its place in his daily 

The Ibo is a cute man, however, and naturally endowed 
with considerable powers of discrimination. He is quite 
capable of distinguishing between profession and practice. 
Consequently he is not favourably impressed with the 
religion of a man who is a past master in lying ?.nd deceit. 
He is disgusted when he discovers that the coin paid to 
him as a shilling is but a halfpenny washed in silver, and 
he is angry when his lamp will not burn properly because 
the kerosene oil he bought has been diluted with water, 
or when on drinking his gin he finds it weaker than usual, 
and it dawns upon him that it has been liberally watered. 
These are only a few of the Moslem tricks which act as 
deterrents to the propagation of Mohammedanism among 



the Ibos. Nor does the pagan relish being treated as a 
" bush man," unworthy of respect or consideration. The 
arrogance of the average Moslem, and the insolent contempt 
with which he treats the pagan are notorious. The result 
is that now that Mohammedanism cannot be spread by its 
former methods of fire and sword, converts are not readily 
won. The statement that " where the negro is given the 
option he will invariably choose Christianity in preference 
to Mohammedanism " has been amply justified in places 
where the two forces are at work side by side. Statistics 
irrefutably support this opinion. On examination of the 
figures available for the Ibo country we find them wholly 
in favour of Christianity. The progress of Christianity, 
and the failure of Islam to make converts can be gauged 
from the following returns : 


Adherents to Christianity in. 
C.M.S. Niger Mission— Ibo people. 



Scholars in Christian Schools, 
C.M.S. Niger Mission— Ibo children. 



Ibo Converts to Islam. 

Ibo children in Mohammedan 

1896 . 
1906 . 
1916 . 



None known 


None known 

These Christians have built more than three hundred 
churches, whereas Islam cannot yet boast a single mosque. 

The statistics here recorded relate solely to the C.M.S. 
Niger Mission. To the numbers quoted must be added 
the Ibo adherents attached to the Anglican churches of 
the Niger Delta Pastorate, the members of the Scotch 
Free and the Primitive Methodist Churches, and the large 

1 For more enlightening and convincing statistics see C.M.S. Review, 
December, 1917 


body of converts to Roman Catholicism. A comparison 
of these figures with the nil returns of Islam in the Ibo 
country during the last twenty years should convince 
even the most prejudiced critic. However strongly he assail 
Christianity the facts in its favour are indisputable. The 
reckless general statements that Mohammedanism is pre- 
eminently the religion for the pagan Nigerian, and the 
misleading implications arising from such assertions as 
" the Islamic wave rolls on all-conquering," will not bear 
scrutiny. The " wave rolls on," truly, but any increase 
in volume comes from behind ; it has not gathered addi- 
tional force from its contact with the Ibo people. It is only 
just that the real state of affairs should be made public, 
even if only for the enlightenment of those who have 
been led astray by untrustworthy generalisation as to 
Christianity and Islam in Nigeria. 

At the same time we recognise that the ultimate issue 
lies with the Christian Church. If she can be induced to 
abandon the laissez-faire attitude of the past and to show 
a disposition to grapple seriously with the task of evangel- 
ising the pagan races of Nigeria, there is overwhelming 
evidence to prove that they will embrace the Christian 
religion with alacrity. The ethics of the Gospel, and the 
Love of God as manifested in Christ, appeal irresistibly 
to the pagan negro of whatever tribe or language. Mo- 
hammedanism deprived of compulsory methods makes 
little progress when it is compelled to prove itself alongside 
the persuasive attractiveness of Christianity.. 

In the southern provinces of Nigeria we are not called 
upon to engage in a campaign against Islam, but to 
endeavour to forestall it. In the immediate realisation of 
this fact lies the key to success. Now is the " acceptable 
time." The situation is dominated by the one great time 
factor " Now." Victory is assured to the Christian faith, 
provided its exponents act with the promptness which 
the occasion demands. The spread of Islam is a challenge 
which should stimulate the Church of Christ to forsake 
the nerveless policy which has prevailed hitherto. A still 
more emphatic challenge comes from the pagans them- 
selves, who, in their thousands, to-day are pleading 


earnestly and pathetically for Christian teachers. Woe 
be to us if we miss the golden opportunity, if we turn a 
deaf ear to their importunate calls for help. 

" The cry of myriads as of one, 

The soul's exceeding bitter cry, 
' Come o'er and help us, or we die.' 





Gc.T Busier). \9WV. 


Abams, the, 37, 208 

Aboh, 19,25, 287 

Abutshi, 27 

Abwala, the deity, 245 

Abwor, 40 

Adornment, bodily, 84 

Adulteration of palm oil, 161 

Africa, the spell of, 17 

Agriculture, 138 

Akpelle or bugle, 207 

Albinos, 31 

Alcoholic drink, introduction of, 33 

Alusi, 219 

" Anasi," or legal wife, 97 

Anklets and bracelets, 92 

Archery, 127 

Aros, the, 208 

" Asaba " mats, 179 

Asapa, 27 

Ata, or speargrass, 29 

Awbu trees, 49 

Awja, the, 186 

Awka, 245 

Awka blacksmiths, 78 

Awkuzu, the, 39 

Awzaw title, the, 263 

Ayakka, the, 238 

Babies, treatment of, 61 
Baikie, Dr., 18, 288 
Bamboo mats, 162, 168 
Banking, 200 
Basket plaiting, 180 
Battles, haphazard, 205 


308 INDEX 

Beds, 51 

Benin, 255 

Benue, R., |18 

Bigamy, 102 

Birth, 59 

Blacksmiths, 78, 171 

Bows and arrows, 127 

Boys, child life of, 65 

Brandon flints, 144 

Building and decorating, 82, 165 

Burial, 113 

Buxton, Sir T. F., 18 

C.M.S., the, 19 
Camwood stain, 181 
Cannibalism, 38 
Canoeman, a skilful, 42 
" Captain Hart," 292 
Carrier problem, 41 
Carving, 170 
Chi, 230 

Chief, death of a, 114 
Chiefs, 255 
Children, Ibo, 57 
Chukwu, 230 
Cicatrization, 75, 79, 182 
Circumcision, 60 
Citizenship, duties of, 83 
Clay, puddling, 165 
Climate, 34 

Climbing palm trees, 157 
Cloth, native, 179 
Coco-nut palms, 156, 168 
Coinage, metal, 200 
Compound, native, 50 
Cooking, 52 
Cotton spinning, 178 
Cowrie shells, 198 
Crowther, S. A., 286 
Currency, 198 

INDEX 309 

Dancing, 131 

Death, fear of, 112 

Decoration, house, 169 

Dedication of children, 6l 

Delta, the, 24 

Dentists, 184 

Dew, heavy, 44 

Dinner, native, 53 

Discipline, lack of, 67, 86 

Disrespect for native beliefs, 212 

Divination, 1244 

Divorce, 76 

Dowry, 70 

Drinking bouts, 83 

Drums, 187 

" Dug-out " canoe, the, 25 

Early training, 79 

Earthworks, 211 

Edde, the vegetable, 47 

Eku-meku secret society, 205* 235 

Ekwensu's Days, 221 

Ekwu and Agwu, 220 

Eldest son, rights of the, 85 

Elephants, 145 

Etiquette, 266 

Expeditions up the Niger, 18 

Ezi-Awka, 246 

Ezira, 125 

Family gods, 218 

Farming, 138 

Festivals, 227 

Fetish houses, 48 

Fetishes, 220 

Filial affection, |65 

Firearms, 128 

Fishing, methods and baits, 142 

Fishing-nets, 139 

310 INDEX 

Flesh food, peculiar taste in, 54-56 

Flora, 29 

Folklore and fables, 273 

Food problem, 151 

Forcados, R., 22 

Freedom by birthright, 78 

Fu or Pu, 264 

Garden operations, 81 
Gin drinking, 84 
Girls, child life of, 66, 88 
Government, system of, 32 
Good and Evil, idea of, 216 
Guinea-fowl dancers, 132 

Hair-dressing, elaborate, 74, 95 

Hoe, native, 138 

Hospitality, 43 

Household gods, 52 

Household utensils and ornaments, 51 

" Houses," 105 

Human flesh, traffic in, 39 

Human sacrifice, 230 

Hunter, native, 144 

Hunting, 143 

Huts, 50 

Ibo : boundaries, 28 ; agriculture, 29 ; game, 30 ; climate, 

Ibos, the : distribution, 28 ; appearance, 31 ; customs 
and language, 31 ; government, 32 ; land tenure, 
32 ; sobriety, 33 ; cleanliness, 33 ; sanitation, 34 ; 
feuds, 38 ; cannibalism, 38 ; hospitality, 43 ; village 
life, 45 ; sanitation, 47 ; markets, 48 ; the household, 
51 ; child life, 57 ; courtship and marriage, 68 ; 
divorce, 76 ; work and play, 79 ; raids, 81 ; garden- 
ing, 81 ; early youth, 82 ; drinking, 83 ; vanity, 84 ; 
primogeniture, 85 ; mortality, 86 ; women, 88 ; 

INDEX 811 

marketing, 91 ; adornment, 92 ; women's work, 98 ; 
women's rights, 95 ; polygamy, 97 ; slavery, 104 ; 
death and burial, 112 ; superstition, 118 ; second 
burial, 120 ; recreation, 127 ; work, 137 ; agriculture, 
138 ; fishing, 139 ; hunting, 143 ; the yam, 147 ; 
palms, 155 ; arts and crafts, 165 ; women's arts and 
crafts, 177 ; music, 185 ; trade and currency, 194 ; 
war, 202 ; religion, 212 ; sacrifices, 223 ; societies, 
235 ; divination, 244 ; kings and chiefs, 255 ; saluta- 
tions, 266 

Ichi or tribal marks, 79, 182 

Ichu-aja, 224 

Igwe, the, 236 

Ikenga, the, 219 

llo, or public meeting ground, 49 

Indigo stain, 181 

Insect pest, 36 

Insignia, chief's, 175 

Iselle-Ukwu, the King of, 205 

Islam, 297 

Ivory, 30 

Iwelli plant, the, 141 

Ju-ju, powerful, 38, 170 

Kernels of palm nuts, 161 
Kidnapping, 105 
Kings and chiefs, 255 
Kola nuts, 267 

Laird, Macgregor, 18 
Land tenure, 32 
Lander, the brothers, 17 
Language, 31 
Leg rings, 92 
Leopard traps, 144 
Love and courtship, 68 

312 INDEX 

Manatee, the, 142 

Mangrove oysters, 23 n. 

Mangrove swamps, 23 

Marital relations, 80 

Marketing, 91 

Markets, 48, 195 

Marriage, 69, 71 

Mat weaving, 179 

Mawa or spirits, 142, 236 

Meat food, diversity of, 54 

Medicine, 170 

Messages, transmitting, 186 

Moats, 211 

Mockler-Ferryman, Lt.-CoL, 19 

" Monkey ships," 20 

Morality, 34 

Mortality amongst the young, 86 

Mortar for oil extraction, 160 

Mourning, 116 

Musical instruments, 131, 185 

Musicians, 190 

Naming and dedicating a child, 60 
" Native House Ordinance," 153 
Native mind, the, 48 
Necessaries of life, few, 84 
Necklaces, 93 
Ngenne, the god, 214 
Niger Mission, the, 286 
Niger, the mystery of the, 17 
Niger, navigation on the, 22 
" Nkpu," ceremony of, 73 
Nri, priests of, 27, 78 

Obu Madu, 256 
Occupations, 80 
Odegilligilli, the, 239 
Offolaw, 189 
Ogenne, the, 262 

INDEX 313 

Oil, extraction of palm, 160 

Oil-palms, 29, 155 

" Ojji," 32 

Okpala, the, 263 

Okwe, the game of, 46, 81, 134, 263 

Old people, the, 86 

Onitsha, 19, 27, 288 

Otu system of reckoning age, 72 

Painting the body, 181 

" Palm oil Ruffians,' 5 20 

Palms, 30, 155 

Palm timber, uses of, 159 

Palm wine, 33, 161 

Park, Mungo, 17 

Patriarchal rule, 47 

Pawns, 105, 107 

" Peace offering, the," 227 

Persistency, lack of, 137 

Personal adornment, 72 

Pestle and mortar, the, 53 

Pitfalls, 210 

Polishing the walls, 89 

Polygamy, 59, 97, 103 

Pottery, 177 

Prices of goods, 198 

Priests of Nri, 78 

Property, personal, 32 

Proverbs, 283 

Public meeting ground, the, 49 

Pythons, 54, 218 

Queen of the market, 195 

Raids, 81, 205 

Rainfall, 35 

Rattler, the, 22 

Recreation and occupation, 127 

Recreations, children's, 65 

314 INDEX 

Reincarnation and transmigration, 60, 119 

Roofing, 167 

Royal Niger Company, 39 

" Sacred " objects and " worship," 217 

Sacred waters, 218 

Sacrifice, human, 122 

Sacrifices, 223 

Sanitation, 34, 47 

Salutations, 260 

Second burial, 120 

Sierra Leone, 20 

Singing, 191 

Slavery, 104 

Snakes as food, 54 

Spirit world, the, 118 

Stains for the skin, 181 

Supernatural, belief in the, 118 

Supreme Being, the, 215 

Swimming, 134 

Tattooing, 183 

Thatching, 167 j 

" Titles," 82 

Titular honours, 258 

Tom-tom, Awka, 246 

Tom-toms, 187 

Tooth, the first, 61 

Tornadoes, 36 

Towers of refuge, 210 

Trading, 174 

Transhipping at Sierra Leone, 21 

Travelling, difficulties of, 43 

Ubaw-akwala, the, 189 
Ubulu, 144 
Ugene or whistle, 185 
Umu-di-Awka, 183 
Umu-Nze, 188 

INDEX 315 

"Up-wine," 160 

" Uri," the custom of, 70 

Vegetation, 28, 29 
Village life, 45 
Villages, riverside, 24 

War, 202 

Water difficulty, the, 46 
" White man's grave," the, 35 
Widows, 121 
Wives, status of, 97 
Women's art and crafts, 177 
Women's committees, 94 
Women, freeborn, 88 
Women, property of, 93 
Women, status of, 80 
Wounds and injuries, 204 
Wrestling, 129 

Yam, the, 53, 81, 147 
Yam stealing, 148 
Yaws and kraw-kraw, 79 
Yola/ 18 









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